Dear Ms. Chase:
“He truly did love her. After all she’d told him. He truly believed she could do anything.”
That’s an amazing showing of love. He believed she could do anything. The Duke of Clevedon falls so in love with Marcelline Noirot, shopkeeper, that he believed she could convince the entire world that they belonged together. Or at least the entirety of the world that mattered. And if she could not? Then to hell with the world.
But alas, I get ahead of myself.
Marcelline Noirot is the eldest of three sisters who came to England young and nearly penniless. They have spent years trying to build up their fashion house, Maison Noirot, but have not yet broken into the ton where the leaders of fashion reside. Determined to change their fortunes, Marcelline hunts down the Duke of Clevedon when society papers indicate that he is readying to return to England to marry his childhood friend, Lady Clara Fairfax. Clevedon was fostered in the Clara’s household after his drunken father died. Yet, when it was suggested to Clevedon it was time to marry Clara he ran away abroad and took his best friend, Clara’s brother, Longmore, with him.
It’s time to come up to scratch.
From the moment that Clevedon meets Marcelline, it is over for him. And regrettably, Marcelline is nearly struck dumb by Clevedon as well. It is not her intention because no dressmaker will be successful if it is known that she seduces the gentlemen.
I’m not going to say I wasn’t made uncomfortable about this set up. Clevedon is promised to Lady Clara. He is supposed to marry her. Yet, his sole focus is on getting Marcelline in bed. The idea of pre marital fidelity doesn’t really enter his mind. What’s interesting about this is that the scandal wouldn’t affect Lady Clara so much as it would affect Clevedon. They aren’t betrothed and Lady Clara is beautiful, wealthy and comes from a titled and important family.
They’d seen Lady Clara Fairfax on several occasions. She was stunningly beautiful: fair-haired and blue-eyed in the classic English rose mode. Since her numerous endowments included high rank, impeccable lineage, and a splendid dowry, men threw themselves at her, right and left.
Marcelline wants this marriage to happen though because Lady Clara would be a magnificent advertisement for the Maison Noirot and if Clevedon doesn’t marry Lady Clara, then it may be years before he gets married and maybe to someone who is only half as magnificent as Lady Clara.
And frankly, this story couldn’t be told any other way. Clevedon is a rotter. He’s a feckless, selfish man who flits through life with no purpose but to enjoy one pleasure after the other.
“For clothes,” he said. “Does it not strike you as absurd, to go to such lengths, when English women, as you say, are oblivious to style? Why not give them what they want?”
“Because I can make them more than what they want,” she said. “I can make them unforgettable. Have you drifted so far beyond the everyday concerns of life that you can’t understand? Is nothing in this world truly important to you, important enough to make you stick to it, in spite of obstacles? But what a silly question. If you had a purpose in life, you would give yourself to it, instead of frittering away your days in Paris.”
He should have realized she’d strike back, but he’d been so caught up in her passion for her dreary work that she took him unawares. An image flashed in his mind of the world he’d fled—the little, dull world and his empty days and nights and the pointless amusements he’d tried to fill them with. He recalled Lord Warford telling him, You seem determined to fritter away your life.
He felt an instant’s shame, then anger, because she’d stung him.
Marcelline is the opposite of Clevedon. Oh, she has just as few scruples, but she is focused, dedicated and purposeful. She has to be. She has a young daughter and two younger sisters. This dreary existence Clevedon so readily insults makes sure that none of the Noirots are selling their bodies on the streets.
Through Marcelline we are shown both how women can triumph but how hard it is for them to achieve independence and most importantly respect.
Clevedon becomes a better person, one with a focus in his life, and that is to make Marcelline’s life easier, happier, safer. Even though Clevedon and Clara had been friends forever, the reader is shown that Clevedon would not fulfill the promise of the man he could be in Clara’s arms and even better, we are shown that Clara deserves someone who loves her without reservation. (Her set down of Clevedon is magnificent).
At the start of every chapter, there are excerpts from what I assume are books you used as research and I thought it was a brilliant way to provide authenticity and historical context for the story.
I also thought this is a book that could have been a great enhanced book. I would have loved to have seen sketches of some of the amazing dresses or even sewing tips on how make a certain type of bodice or the difference between blond lace and cotton lace (blond lace is not blond in color but a reference to the fabric (silk) of the lace).
All of the characters sing in this story from the seamstresses to the sisters. There is not one character that appears who did not have a purpose, who did not add something important to the scene, to the overall story arc. This story is full of passion and it’s not just passion between the characters but its Marcelline’s passion for women, her desire to make them magnificent, to imbue them with confidence and instill in them a presence. I came away from this book thinking that this author, you, really love women and you are writing books to make women feel proud of themselves. B+*
*So why my B+? Because in the overall pantheon of amazing Loretta Chase books, this is not my favorite and so I’m giving it a B+ not because I can pinpoint any imperfections but because as great as it is, I love other Chase books more.