Sunday, January 23, 2022

Sunday with The Siren

by Stephanie Barron

make no secret of the fact that January is my favorite month. It's a time for ridding the world of holiday clutter, of paring back one's needs and indulgences, of rolling up the sleeves and getting down to work. Happily, this coincides at present with my particular job of drafting a manuscript, which is due to my editor February 1st. These past few weeks, I have slipped into a long, literary mood as another might slide into a hot and scented bath. It feels blissful to drown in words.

Naturally, not all of the words are my own. I've been fortunate to have a copy of Mimi Matthews latest novel, THE SIREN OF SUSSEX, sitting on the ottoman by my bedroom fire. I've been reading Matthews' work ever since she first gently published, without much fanfare, THE LOST LETTER in 2017, and she has been prolific, bringing forth twelve books of fiction and nonfiction in the past few years. Her stories are always engrossing, tender, beautifully written, flawlessly plotted, and engaging; her characters live on in the mind. Their emotions are authentic, and their dilemmas are true to the history of their times. I have been drawn to her work as I was, years ago, to Jane Austen's, but also to Georgette Heyer's, and to the very different, but equally well-crafted, novels of Loretta Chase.

The heroine of THE SIREN OF SUSSEX is instantly sympathetic: she is a young woman determined to marry, with only moderate good looks, no fortune worth seducing, and one triumphant skill--she is a consummate horsewoman, in a society that values a woman with a good seat. Intelligent and enterprising, Evelyn Maltrevers stalks the most accomplished male tailor in London to design and cut the riding habit she will deploy to fascinate the gaze of Male London on Rotten Row: that is to say, to rivet the notice of the Powerful on her young and accomplished body. 

Ahmad Malik is the tailor. First introduced in Mimi Matthews' A MODEST INDEPENDENCE, Malik is the handsome and driven immigrant from the Subcontinent whose consummate skills with fabric and design have advanced the fortunes of his correct British employer. When Evelyn Maltrevers approaches him with the request to design a beautifully tailored habit for a lady, he seizes the opportunity to establish a reputation as an independent modiste. The Devil's Bargain between the two leads, almost inexorably, to romance--each is powerfully attracted by all that is forbidden, enticing, and fascinating about the other--but social and cultural gulfs divide their common ground. As Evie waltzes through Victorian Society, Ahmad toils by lamplight to design her fashionable armor; and much of the breathless tension offered by THE SIREN OF SUSSEX lies in the tantalizing question: will Evie and Ahmad find a way, despite all odds, (dare I say it!) to work in harness?

Mimi Matthews is herself a notable horsewoman, having schooled her beloved Andalusians through dressage competitions over the years, and her knowledge of equine skill is rivaled only by her facility with fashion. I imagine she has studied the career of Charles Frederick Worth, the English emigre to Paris who became perhaps the first true male celebrity of women's fashion design. There is so much to be learned and loved in Matthews' SIREN. Thank goodness the second novel in this four-part series, THE BELLE OF BELGRAVE SQUARE, is already scheduled for publication in October, 2022!


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Francine. As a fellow historical fiction author, your praise is even more valued. I adored Siren, as well and look forward to The Belle of Belgrave Square with baited breath! Take case, LA