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romance set in 19th century
Historical Fiction,  Review,  Romance

The Siren of Sussex (Belles of London #1) by Mimi Matthews – interracial, cross-class romance set in 19th century

The Siren of Sussex was fascinating, well written interracial, cross-class romance set in 19th century with focus not just on women but also on half-Indians of the era.

romance set in 19th century

The Siren of Sussex (Belles of London #1) by Mimi Matthews

Publication Date : January 11th 2022

Publisher : Berkley

Genre : Historical Romance

Pages : 430

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Disclaimer- Many thanks to publisher for providing e-copy via NetGalley, in exchange for honest review.
This post contains affiliate links.

Books I read by the same author

John Eyre: A Tale of Darkness and Shadow

Synopsis

Victorian high society’s most daring equestrienne finds love and an unexpected ally in her fight for independence in the strong arms of London’s most sought after and devastatingly handsome half-Indian tailor.

Evelyn Maltravers understands exactly how little she’s worth on the marriage mart. As an incurable bluestocking from a family tumbling swiftly toward ruin, she knows she’ll never make a match in a ballroom. Her only hope is to distinguish herself by making the biggest splash in the one sphere she excels: on horseback. In haute couture. But to truly capture London’s attention she’ll need a habit-maker who’s not afraid to take risks with his designs—and with his heart.

Half-Indian tailor Ahmad Malik has always had a talent for making women beautiful, inching his way toward recognition by designing riding habits for Rotten Row’s infamous Pretty Horsebreakers—but no one compares to Evelyn. Her unbridled spirit enchants him, awakening a depth of feeling he never thought possible.

But pushing boundaries comes at a cost and not everyone is pleased to welcome Evelyn and Ahmad into fashionable society. With obstacles spanning between them, the indomitable pair must decide which hurdles they can jump and what matters most: making their mark or following their hearts? 

Review

The Siren of Sussex is amazing first book in Belles of London regency romance series that revolved around Evelyn who came to London for her debut and met dressmaker who changed goal of her life. The story was about colonialism, prejudice, class difference, social exploitation, belongingness, family, friendship, fashion, and love.

Writing is descriptive and vivid that brought victorian era to life. Story is written in third person narrative from alternative perspective of Evelyn and Ahmad. Dual perspective worked well here. It highlighted protagonists’ inner conflict and their feelings perfectly.

Plot is fantastic. Story was set in 19th century that started with the introduction of Evelyn Maltravers. She comes to London for her debut with responsibility of her younger sisters whose lives depend on her finding best wealthy husband. She isn’t good in ballroom or have great looks or quality except she is a brilliant rider and she wished to make impression through her equestrian skill but for that she needs best habit maker. Seeing pretty horsebreakers in dazzling fashionable habits she approaches their habit maker, Ahmad Malik. Ahmad is part Indian, part British who works at a famous men’s tailor shop with an arrangement. His only goal is to save enough money to buy the shop and be London society’s lady’s dressmaker. Romance isn’t in Evelyn or Ahmad’s life goals but as they meet and start working together it becomes hard to ignore the growing attraction that will cost them everything. It was interesting to see what will they do about their feelings, will they follow their heart, and what trouble they will face in doing so.

Both Evelyn and Ahmad are amazing throughout the story. I rooted for them from the beginning. I liked Ahmad but Evelyn was my favorite. She is smart, wise, responsible, kind, caring, and circumspect. She is willing to do everything in her power to make her and her sisters’ future better but with dignity and being more careful than her elder sister who ran away with her lover and didn’t marry him. She isn’t a damsel. She isn’t bluestocking as people said but her thoughts are definitely forward and peculiar making her different from other ladies which I liked very much. I liked her determination, will, and views. I liked her for how well she understood Ahmad and respected him. The risks she took and how she changed her plans and could understand her elder sister’s reckless decision was amazing. I enjoyed reading her development and how open she was about her feelings and what she was willing to do to follow her heart. What I liked most about her was her thoughts towards Indians and British rule over India.

I love handsome brooding heroes and Ahmad was exactly the same and total gentleman. I felt for him for what he gone through ever since he came to London with his sister and how he struggled to be independent and save money to buy the shop. It was horrible to see how ladies and gentlemen took advantage of their position, servents and people looking at him suspiciously for him being half-Indian and how much that affected his work. His feelings of not belonging to either country was heartfelt and I liked how that changed slowly after meeting Evelyn. I loved him for thinking about Evelyn first, putting his feelings aside and giving every possible chance to her so she could have someone stable and rich. His doubts and inner conflicts were genuine and relatable.

I enjoyed reading side characters, especially Evelyn’s new friends in London- Anne, Stella, and Julia. They were interesting, had their unique characteristics and I loved how non-judgemental and supportive they were. I’m so excited to know this series follows their story as well. I’m so much interested in Julia and Anne’s stories in next books.

Romance was realistic and slow burn. The attraction between Evelyn and Ahmad was there from the beginning but I liked that it wasn’t insta-love. They had their responsibilities and goals in their mind for long time and they didn’t forget it even when they realized, it isn’t just attraction but more. I enjoyed how they changed their plan turned all obstacles in their favor. I liked how simple author kept it and yet it had its charm.

Characters and plot is obviously great but the best part is victorian era. I enjoyed reading about horsebreakers, dresses and fashion in this time period, beliefs of spiritualism in society, and position of Indians in Victorian London. It all is so well written. I liked reading fashion and historical facts about events happened and even some characters and what was fictionalized to suit the story in author’s note. I have read women’s position and issues they face in this era before and how people looked at them and expected them to be but it was great to see focus on a struggling, a tradesman’s position and that too a half Indian and how society treated him.

Twists and turns are well written. I was expecting some but I couldn’t guess few things like climax and everything happened after it. I liked Evelyn’s plan. It was smart and I so love her for promoting Ahmad’s dresses and how that benefited him. End is perfect. I just hope I get chance to read Captain Blunt and Julia’s story in next book.

Why 4.5 stars-

My small issue was with pace. It was terribly slow at times and took me more than usual time to finish the book.

Overall, The Siren of Sussex was fascinating, well-written victorian era romance with layered characters and amazing historical elements.

I highly recommend this if you like,
Historical romance
Victorian era
interracial, cross-class romance
Fashion during this time period
theme of belongingness, racism, and internal struggle
layered characters
third-person narrative
fresh perspective
accurate historical elements
Focus not only on women of the era but also on men and half Indians

Book Links

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What do you think about the book and review? Have you read this or any book by the same author? Which is your favorite 19th century romance or novel?

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Hi, I'm Yesha, an Indian book blogger. Avid and eclectic reader who loves to read with a cup of tea. Not born reader but I don't think I’m going to stop reading books in this life. “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

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