The Siren of Sussex
by Mimi Matthews
Book 1 in The Belles of London series
About the book:
USA Today bestselling historical romance writer Mimi Matthews makes her Berkley debut with a boldly feminist tale about a daring equestrienne in her quest for independence just as the birth of haute couture takes the echelons of Victorian society by storm.
Matthews’ novel is inspired by the real-life Pretty Horsebreakers, a scandalous group of equestriennes and infamous courtesans at the forefront of fashion trends in Victorian London who defied the rules of polite society, and Charles Worth, the father of haute couture. THE SIREN OF SUSSEX (Berkley Trade Paperback Original; January 11, 2022) introduces Evelyn Maltravers, an incurable bluestocking determined to make her first and only season in London a roaring success.
Evelyn Maltravers is not exactly the woman who comes to mind when picturing a distinguished lady of the ton. More suited to riding than dancing, and much more opinionated than a young lady ought to be, her chances of securing a successful match have always been slim. But after her eldest sister is embroiled in scandal, that is exactly what she must do. Freshly arrived in London, Evelyn has one season to secure a husband and ensure both her own future and that of her four younger sisters. While Evelyn knows she will never dazzle the ton in a ballroom, there is one place where she has the advantage over all the ladies of polite society—on horseback in Rotten Row. But if she is to rival the alluring beauty of the Pretty Horsebreakers, she will need a tailor unafraid to take risks to make her the most fashionable equestrienne of the ton.
Evelyn turns to half-Indian dressmaker Ahmad Malik, who has a unique talent for bringing out his clients’ best features. Despite the inherent barriers he faces to becoming part of high society, Ahmad is working toward owning his own shop by designing the eye-catching habits of the Pretty Horsebreakers. Evelyn is convinced that Ahmad is the only person who can make her debut at Rotten Row a success. Ahmad knows that Evelyn, a fierce and confident woman on horseback, is the perfect muse, and an alluring subject to display his designs to the ton, if only he can set aside the intense attraction he feels for her.
With both their futures at stake, Ahmad will have to turn the diamond in the rough into the diamond of the season—while they both strive not to lose their hearts in the process.
Mimi Matthews delivers an enthralling romance while exploring themes of race, class, and the lingering effects of British colonialism. Drawing from her own Indian heritage and experience as an avid horse rider, Matthews brings to life Ahmad and Evelyn, two outsiders who change the course of Victorian society.
(Photo Credit: Berkley Jove)
USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, and two Siamese cats. Learn more online at mimimatthews.com.
A surge of disappointment dimmed Evelyn’s smile. It occurred to her, quite suddenly, how little she knew about him.
Of course, he must have a sweetheart. Heaven’s sake, he was probably married! Just because he didn’t wear a wedding band didn’t mean he didn’t have a wife—and probably several children besides. It was none of her affair.
She turned back to the shelves. “In that case . . . What about a romance?”
“No romances,” he said darkly.
“No?” Was he one of those stuffy men who disapproved of romance novels? Many did. Even so, she’d expected better of him. A man who designed clothing so beautifully shouldn’t be averse to sentiment. “What about this one, then? Silas Marner. It only came out last year.”
Mr. Malik drew it from the shelf. It was bound in brown cloth with gilt lettering on the spine. “What’s it about?”
“An individual and his place in society. The hero of the story is a weaver. A man with no family to speak of, who keeps himself apart from his community.”
“A bit too close to home.” He returned the book to the shelf. “She needs something bright. Something to boost her spirits.”
Evelyn wondered why. Was she ill? Melancholic? Had she had some sort of disappointment? “In that case”—she reached for a Jane Austen novel—“I recommend this one.”
He took it from her, giving the title a dubious glance. “Northanger Abbey.”
“It’s Miss Austen’s satire of a Gothic novel. A vastly entertaining read. It should take her mind off whatever it is that’s troubling her.”
Mr. Malik thumbed through the pages. His expression was doubtful.
“I confess,” she said “there is a romance in the story, but it’s witty rather than mawkish. I can’t imagine she won’t enjoy it.”
“It’s still a romance.”
A cough sounded nearby, along with the thump of books being shoved back on a shelf. It was a reminder that she and Mr. Malik weren’t alone. Far from it. The shop seemed to be growing busier.
Evelyn sunk her voice. “What does she have against romance?”
“Nothing,” he replied, his tone equally low. “I just don’t want her to get any ideas.”
“Ideas about what?”
The wide swell of Evelyn’s skirts brushed his leg. She belatedly realized that she’d drawn closer to him. That their conversation had taken on an air of intimacy. “You object to them?”
“I don’t believe in fairy tales,” he said.
She gave him an amused look. “Is that what they are?”
“In my experience.”
“Is it?” He turned another page.
“Indeed. You’re a cynic, Mr. Malik. I wouldn’t have thought it.”
“I’m a realist.”
“Happily-ever-afters are real. For some people, at least. And even if they weren’t . . . A little romance never hurt anyone.”
His eyes lifted to hers. There was an expression in them that was hard to read. “You think not?”
Butterflies unfurled their wings in her stomach. The same feeling she’d had when she’d first touched his hand. A fluttering, breathless sensation. As if her corset had been laced too tightly. “No,” she said. And then she thought of Fenny. “Not in a novel, anyway.”
His mouth curled into the barest hint of a smile.
Once again, she had the unsettling sensation that he could read her mind. She took a step back from him. “Forgive me, but I mustn’t linger. My maid is waiting for me.”
He closed the book, clutching it in his hand. “Thank you for your help.”
“It was my pleasure. I hope your . . .” Wife? Sweetheart? “I hope she enjoys the story.”
Evelyn nearly stumbled in the process of taking another step backward. “I beg your pardon?”
“The book is for my cousin.”
His words penetrated before she could school her features. She was certain an expression of relief passed over her face.
She was equally certain that he saw it.
Heaven only knew what he must think.
“Your cousin. Well, that’s . . . that’s splendid.” Splendid? Evelyn’s eyes closed against a swell of embarrassment. She was quite ready to disappear into a hole in the earth. She took another step back. “Please convey my regards.”
His smile broadened. “I shall.”
From THE SIREN OF SUSSEX published by arrangement with Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Mimi Matthews.
I’ve enjoyed each and every book I’ve read by this author. Mimi Matthews writes Victorian, English romances. Not necessarily what I’d classify as Christian, but clean.
Ms. Matthews does such an exceptional job at making these stories come to life. The characters are so real, they practically jump off the pages. I love, love the setting. England has always intrigued me, and being able to visit Victorian England in this way is such a delight.
I found Evelyn to be quite an intriguing and interesting character. Of course, since this is a romance novel, there is plenty of romance woven throughout the pages of the story….
The attraction between Evelyn and Mr. Ahmad Malik is almost instantaneous. Matthews writes sizzling chemistry, so keep that in mind when deciding to read (or not read) this book. 😉
I loved Evelyn, but I also loved her unique, and slightly unusual friends. I have high hopes of reading their stories in future books.
Full of romance, delightful setting and characters, and lots of unexpected twists. If you are a lover of these things, I highly recommend this book.
Disclaimer: I receive complimentary books from various sources, including, publishers, publicists, authors, and/or NetGalley. I am not required to write a positive review, and have not received any compensation. The opinions shared here are my own entirely. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255