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REVIEW: Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase

Dear Ms. Chase:

The very nature of this series presents a problem or at the very least requires a huge suspension of disbelief of the reader. The first book, Silk is for Seduction, portrays the romance between a dressmaker and a Duke in England. The second book pairs another dressmaker with an Earl. Needless to say, this is akin to lightning striking the same spot twice in one storm.

Scandal Wears Satin Loretta Chase
Yet, I’m willing to move beyond that incredulous platform because your work, for me, has been so stellar. Your work remains the bedrock of my romance reading list. It is with much regret I write that this book disappointed me. It’s not that it is poorly written because I don’t think a Chase book could ever be poorly written however, it relies on gimmicks and implausibilities, and a cast of thousands at times to tell its tale and for the most part, I spent the time in the book shaking my head in disappointment.

Sophia Noirot is the middle sister of the three dressmaking Noirot sisters.  Her eldest sister married a wealthy duke yet their shop is in peril because the scandal of a shopkeeper marrying a Duke was driving away customers.

Harry Fairfax, Earl of Longmore, heir to the title of Marquess of Warford, was/is the Duke of Clevedon’s best friend.  A strain was placed on their friendship when the Duke of Clevedon jilted Harry’s sister to marry the eldest Noirot sister.  One would think that conflict was sufficient to power the pages of the story.

Clara, the jilted sister, is emotionally weak and succumbs to the flirtations of an unscrupulous man and is subsequently ruined by him publicly.  Rather than marry this man (as he had planned), Clara runs off.  Harry pursues her and Sophy convinces him that Clara will need a woman to confide in.

Complicating this is the survival of the Noirot sisters’ shop.  They refuse to take money from the Duke to save it but are battling a dressmaking nemesis who appears to be stealing their designs.

The story is told in three acts.  The first act takes place in London and sets the stage for the second act which is the road romance. Harry and Sophy engage in predictable bickering that is thinly disguised as foreplay.  Clara is more enterprising than either Harry or Sophy had imagined and they are led on a fairly merry chase.

It is in the second act where I think the story falters the most.  Harry is presented as a meathead with more brawn than brains and unfortunately he does little redeem that perception.

“Trickery is your department, Miss Noirot,” he said. “Mine is knocking people about. But I’m flattered that you imagine I’m clever enough to trick you.”

He’s towed along by Sophy as the two pursue Clara.  Sophy, a purported master of disguise, puts on one costume after the other.  Yet at some points, I felt like her sexuality was subdued to make her appear the ingenue, someone more acceptable to readers but that innocence felt false.  Creating a background for Sophy that included learning “how to survive on the streets” but also trying to connect her bloodlines to some family more respectable was an inauthentic attempt to provide plausibility for the ultimate connection between Harry and Sophy.   When they refuse to accept money from the Duke to update their salon to make it competitive, the effort to present the sisters as principled was laughable in light of how the Noirot sisters are willing to do most anything to advance their careers, including convincing the jilted former fiancé of the Duke to be dressed by them.

The last act was to convince the readers of the plausibility of their pairing, save Clara from a dreadful marriage, and salvaging the family dressmaking business. By that time, I had gotten frustrated with all the conveniences and contrivances of Act II.   What saves the book is the, as always, the remarkable prose and the dry wit and the witty dialogue.  I did wonder about the over abundance of ellipses in the writing though.

  • Then nothing made sense anymore . . . and everything did, finally.
  • She was aware of the size and heat of his phallus . . . inside her.
  • When he began to move inside her, she moved instinctively, catching his rhythm in the same way she’d learned his way of kissing . . . as though somehow she’d always known and had simply been waiting for the signal to begin.
  • He was not sure any woman who wasn’t a near relative had ever uttered his Chris tian name. She even made it sound . . . French.
  •  Such a back this was: straight and silky smooth . . . and at its base the beautiful curve and rise of her perfect bottom.

50 Shades of Madame Cartland? C

Best regards,

Jane

 

 

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

47 Comments

  1. Ros
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 14:20:37

    I don’t understand this: “Harry Fairfax, Earl of Longmore, heir to the title of Marquess of Warford, was/is the Duke of Clevedon.”

    It sounds as if Harry is an attempt to write another Rupert Carsington. Except, of course, Rupert is never as stupid as he seems. Also, I really hope that Chase isn’t losing her grip on the English class system.

  2. Jane
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 14:23:25

    Sorry, that should read “was/is the Duke of Clevedon’s best friend”

    Harry did have shades of Rupert (I also made the same connection) but Harry is a jerk. A jerk throughout most of the story and Rupert was never like that.

  3. Anne V
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 14:28:23

    I really liked Rupert. He remains one of my favorite historical heroes.

  4. Ros
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 15:00:26

    @Jane: Ah, that makes sense. No, Rupert’s never a jerk. He’s lovely. He’s high on my list of romance heroes I’d actually like to meet in real life.

  5. thetroubleis
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 16:18:54

    To me quite honest, this reminds how much I wish there were more historical romances about working and middle class people.

  6. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 16:32:21

    And what’s with the cover? That’s a dress right out of the 1950′s. Nothing about it says 1830′s to me. Not Chase’s fault, but when I first saw it, I thought we’d get a 1950′s romance set in the designer ateliers of Dior and Charles James (that would be exciting!)
    But sadly, I have to agree with the verdict here. Beautifully written, but too many implausibilities and suspension of disbelief moments for me to get into it completely.

  7. DM
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 16:36:26

    I agree with thetroubleis, and I had a lot of the same problems Jane points out with the first book in this new series, but I’m still going to buy and read this one because even less-than-perfect-Chase is still more satisfying to me than most authors. She has a knack for observing characters and making them feel real.

  8. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 17:00:26

    Dresses like this one: http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m5zq59baiZ1qf46efo2_1280.jpg
    Gorgeous, but definitely not 1930′s!

  9. joanne
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 17:45:24

    @DM: Agreed, a C+ Chase book is better than most B+ reads from other historical authors.

    I found with this story the same thing I found with Jennifer Ashley’s Mackenzie series: I fell in love with the first book and so the rest seemed not as good. I loved Silk Is For Seduction so this one just never measured up.

  10. Sunita
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 18:12:22

    I have a number of Chase’s earlier books on my keeper list. They’re not historically accurate in every detail, but they have a lot more historical authenticity than it sounds like this book does. When did Chase start writing in-your-face unbelievable books?

    I’m just thinking back to Miss Wonderful, and earlier books than that. There was a lot more verisimilitude in those, as I remember. Or am I just seeing them through rose-colored glasses?

  11. Ros
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 18:58:21

    @Sunita: I adore Miss Wonderful. It was the first Chase I read and still one of my favourites.

  12. Karenmc
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 19:26:50

    I’ve only read the first two chapters, but already I was thinking, “These are rather insulting descriptions of the hero.” Not the best start I’ve had with a Chase book, but as others have said, the writing and the wit go a long way.

  13. Mary
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 19:27:20

    I’m relatively new to Chase’s books (not sure who Rupert is) but I enjoyed this book. Not as much as the first but I liked it. Looks like I need to read her backlist!

  14. DM
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 19:41:49

    @Sunita

    I don’t think it’s rose-colored glasses. Chase’s earlier books were more grounded–these new ones have a lot of what I think of as Avon-style-Regency-froth. I find the characters less relatable, but the writing sucks me in anyway.

  15. Sandra
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 20:05:16

    @Mary: Mr. Impossible.

    That was my first Chase, and still my favorite. I know Lord of Scoundrels always ends up on the top of the “Best Of” lists, but I do love Rupert.

  16. Mary
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 21:11:17

    Thanks, Sandra! Adding Mr. Impossible to my list.

  17. Jane
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 21:14:53

    I feel like a curmudgeon giving a Chase book less than a B because she is a remarkable writer. I can’t help but think of what a wealthy merchant pairing with one of the Noirot sisters would work because so much of the large cast of characters and the plot implausibilities seem to lie with making us believe in the possibility of the set up.

  18. Dabney
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 21:56:31

    I enjoyed reading it but definitely felt it was a “turn your brain” off book. It reminded me of the many recent historicals–Hoyt, James, etc…–that are either outright fairy-tales or so unbelievable that they might as well be.

  19. Ducky
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 22:42:42

    @Dabney:

    Nods. I think the recent James series is the most fairytale like, Hoyt always feels more realistic to me because of the way she writes sex. Of course the genre is not known for its realism, but still – I just can’t get past the certainty that those highborn dukes and earls would gladly fuck a pretty dressmaker but never marry her.

  20. Anna Cowan
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 22:57:11

    It’s a while since I read Silk is for Seduction, so I’m probably missing a link/misremembering something. Wasn’t Sophie the sister who kept going off to “deal with” the newspaperman? (Fox?) I remember looking forward to what I assumed would be their romance. Maybe it was the other sister…

  21. Meri
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 23:18:18

    I hope I’ll enjoy this one more than Jane did, but I do wish Chase had paired Sophy with someone else, and in general it would be good if she wrote more heroes who are merchants or otherwise working people. She’s already done written several such heroines; who not try it with the heroes, too?

    I agree that her earlier books were more well-grounded. I wonder if her publication schedule is too fast to allow her to write at the level she once did? I think there was a bigger wait for her older books, and she took a long break between The Last Hellion and Miss Wonderful.

  22. Maili
    Jun 28, 2012 @ 02:40:42

    @Dabney:

    I enjoyed reading it but definitely felt it was a “turn your brain” off book. It reminded me of the many recent historicals–Hoyt, James, etc…–that are either outright fairy-tales or so unbelievable that they might as well be.

    The majority of old historical romances are rather fantastical as well. They either are overblown soap operas or, mostly, blatantly ahistorical, which does lend a fantastical or fairy-tale air. Many Kinsale historical romances are batshit crazy rather fantastical, for instance. A ninja white hero with a broken leg hiding in a ceiling! An heroine inventor in a Da Vinci-type flying machine on top of a tower! I also would classify Garwood’s 1990s-era historical romances as outrightly fairy tales. We’d be here all day if I keep listing the others. :D But I digress.

    In any case, Chase’s single-title historical romances do usually have had a fairy-tale quality, starting with Lord of Scoundrels. If Disney were to produce a series of romantic period films (similar to their 1960s-era films, like Mary Stewart’s The Moon-spinners and all other Hayley Mills/Disney films), Lord of Scoundrels would fit in right at home. It has an idiot brother as comic relief, light-hearted dramatic moments (shooting, umbrella, etc.), Beast hero who’s obsessed with his nose, heroine acting like Mary Poppins, etc. Disney would probably remove hero’s pre-heroine humping days, though. Julie Ann Long’s historical romances would be perfect for Disney as well.

    Seriously though, I believe we’re seeing a slow-but-surely growing number of readers (and authors) who want non-titled heroes/heroines. I think this may be the reason why some seem dissatisfied with the aristocratic hero/ine trope lately. I’d be a very happy bunny if my guess is right because it may mean more interesting settings, variety in plots and better flexibility. I also hope it’ll finally loosen up those damn genre conventions. I think we’re also seeing more historical romances cropping up. I mean, I recently spotted Carrie Lofty’s latest Starlight that seems different, so I got that. (I must admit I laughed when I saw hero’s name: Alex Christie. Christie is so Scottish that it reeks tartan :D It’d be even more Scottish if his name was Sandy Christie, though, as Alexander/Alex usually ends up as Sandy in Scotland). I look forward to the idea of non-conventional historical romances becoming conventional. I hope it will be, anyhow.

    *cough* Sorry for derailing.

  23. Meri
    Jun 28, 2012 @ 03:08:15

    @Maili: And the heroine of Starlight is a factory girl heroine, which is not the usual thing in a romance, either. The hero is an American, so I guess that explains why he’s Alex rather than Sandy. The first Christie book (Flawless) was also rather different – and I don’t believe I’ve ever read a romance set in the Cape Colony.

    I do sense, like you, that there is more of a trend towards non titled characters (and non-regency settings), which is great – and I hope Chase will give it a shot in the future.

  24. Maili
    Jun 28, 2012 @ 03:13:43

    @Meri: Oh, I knew that. I wasn’t criticising the name at all. Rather, I was amused by my reaction to seeing the name. I’ve never seen a character of Scottish ancestry with that surname so I was rather thrilled. I suppose it was my way of paying a compliment to the author. As for Flawless, I’ll give that a try as well. Thanks.

    Amen.

  25. Meri
    Jun 28, 2012 @ 03:47:39

    @Maili:
    My previous comment could have used more proofreading… I do miss the edit feature. Anyway, I just want to point out that in Flawless the hero is titled – but it’s pretty unconventional otherwise.

    I think that with a few adjustments, LoS could also work as a non-Disney romcom.

  26. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 28, 2012 @ 06:01:51

    @Maili: But Kinsale’s books were always meticulously researched, and one of the joys of reading her books lies in looking up the more fantastical elements and finding they were real. The Quakers who live apart from Regency society? Look at the Shoreditch community, which gave rise to not a few social reformers. The woman who invented a flying machine? Try the male inventor John Joseph Merlin and the accounts of the gliders invented by the military. The weirder she gets, the more likely it is that there is solid, historical fact behind the stories.
    The others? I don’t know, but when I discovered that about Kinsale’s books, I couldn’t resist looking up the elements of her books. That was one of the joys of reading them, to know that I had more pleasure to come, discovering things about the past I didn’t know.
    The older historical romances were plausible, for the most part. They could have happened. These days? Not so much. I’ve given up reading most historical romances, because they couldn’t have happened in reality, and research has gone from sloppy to nearly non existent. Chase is an exception, but I did find this book hard to swallow.

  27. cbackson
    Jun 28, 2012 @ 08:34:17

    Hm, I seem to be unable to reply via iPad, but @thetroubleis: Courtney Milan is one of the best writers if you’re looking for romances amongst the historical working/middle/professional class. Mary Balogh also takes on class issues fairly explicitly in many of her books, although things tend to magically work out.

  28. Maili
    Jun 28, 2012 @ 09:13:10

    @Lynne Connolly: Sorry, but what? I didn’t say anything about historical details. You really cannot deny that some of her books are in Cuckooland. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing, or that I didn’t enjoy it. TS&TS was one of my favourites after all.

  29. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 28, 2012 @ 10:17:50

    @Maili: I thought cloud cuckoo land was a place where anything goes and people can do and have whatever they want: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_cuckoo_land – so the mistake was that I thought you were referring to an airy-fairy place where you could make up anything. Considering the dearth of decent historicals recently, and believe me, I’ve sampled a lot, that was the thing they had in common. No history, but set in some cloud cuckoo land Regency.
    Sorry. I just adore Kinsale’s books, and Chase’s too, come to that.

  30. Des Livres
    Jun 28, 2012 @ 10:45:56

    My take was identical to Jane’s: I kept tripping over the “they’re seamstresses who want to stay in business despite marrying into nobility?” thing. The hero, (whose name I have already forgotten) came across as a stupid unlikable Rupert. I was also disenchanted with Sophie suddenly being a complete ingenue – or maybe that was a necessity to make sure she ended up with the hero. Chase is one of my favourite romance authors, but I’d rather she slowed her writing schedule and wrote better books. A C grade Chase is still better than most A grade anything else.

  31. Ridley
    Jun 28, 2012 @ 10:58:29

    An Avon historical was a frothy mess of make-believe? Shocking.

  32. DM
    Jun 28, 2012 @ 11:07:13

    @Ridley

    I did wonder if this was a case of an author being made to conform to house style.

  33. Kelly
    Jun 28, 2012 @ 11:42:47

    I trust Chase’s writing enough to know that I’m probably going to enjoy it despite the inherent flaws of the premise, and I’ll probably keep buying whatever comes next.

    But the same thing happened with Sarah MacLean’s latest (A Rogue By Any Other Name, also by Avon), and she’s now off my auto-buy list. I loved her first trilogy, but the newest one was such a disappointment I almost DNF’d it. I felt betrayed by the lack of effort. I really really hope that never happens with Chase, but I guess I can always read her fabulous history blog instead.

    As others have pointed out, WHY WHY WHY does the hero of Satin have to be titled? I’ve been purposely avoiding almost anything with “duke” in the title, because they’re all exactly the same. I’m definitely not pointing my finger solely at Chase, but it just seems like such a cop-out to use a stock Earl of MakeBelieve instead of creating a swoon-worthy working hero.

    It seems like we can get a complex heroine OR a complex hero – but very rarely both in the same book, and that’s why I get so giddy over Courtney Milan and Cecilia Grant and Joanna Bourne.

    Also: Rupert Carsington is MY Fictional Boyfriend, so keep away.

  34. Janine
    Jun 29, 2012 @ 12:02:32

    @Sunita:

    When did Chase start writing in-your-face unbelievable books?

    I think the first might have been Don’t Tempt Me, the one with the heroine who had been held captive in a harem. I enjoyed it tremendously, but was conscious of how unrealistic it was the whole time. I wonder if I’ll feel that way about this one, or if the implausibilities will get in the way of my enjoyment.

  35. Lady Wesley
    Jun 29, 2012 @ 12:46:51

    @thetroubleis: To me quite honest, this reminds how much I wish there were more historical romances about working and middle class people.

    Consider trying Carla Kelly, whom I’ve recently “discovered” and whose backlist is being rereleased in print and ebook. Granted she doesn’t do the sexytimes as much as the authors we’ve been discussing, but her stories and characters are matchless. Her very best are Reforming Lord Ragsdale or Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand, which admittedly do involve aristocrats, buy they are aristos with real lives and real problems. For grittier lives, try her short story collection In Love and War.

  36. etv13
    Jun 29, 2012 @ 19:41:02

    I don’t think Harry is a meathead at all. You can’t take what he says, or even what he thinks, about himself at face value, any more than you can believe Vere Mallory when he says Lydia is the one who has all the brains. He isn’t a scholar, but he’s fluent in a number of languages, and he keeps up with Sophy pretty well.

    Anyway, I liked this one a lot, and I think the implausibility of the situation is part of the entertainment value of the book. Or rather, it’s part of the particular kind of book it is, a light, airy, effervescent confection. A book that matched Sophy with a genuinely working- or middle-class hero would be an altogether different kind of book, a Courtney Milan or a Carla Kelly rather than a Loretta Chase.

  37. etv13
    Jun 29, 2012 @ 19:48:19

    Kelly @ 33: You know, it doesn’t seem to me that there’s much that’s all that plausible or realistic about Joanna Bourne’s superspies or that whole setup with the King of Thieves. They’re very entertaining, and yes, the characters (especially Adrian) are fairly complex, but they belong more to the James Bond genre of spy novels than to LeCarre or Furst or Anthony Price — or, for that matter, Patrick O’Brian’s Napoleonic spies.

  38. meoskop
    Jun 30, 2012 @ 10:19:34

    I didn’t love this one either – I thought it had problems in it’s focus. I didn’t think Longmore was dense and I resented him for pursuing someone with such a low opinion of him.

    The whole realism / plausible thing – at their heart all romances are fairy tales. This isn’t to degrade them. The difference is if the author lifts you beyond the fairy tale. When you’re caught up in the magic you don’t care if Juliet is being played by a young boy or not. When you are not you think “Wow, that’s kind of creepy. Why is Romeo macking on the cross dressing tween?” This is totally different from conversations about possibility. If Cleopatra comes striding through Verona no amount of magic is going to conquer the WTF’ery of it all.

  39. Sunita
    Jun 30, 2012 @ 10:57:38

    @Janine: Ah, thanks. That’s the one where I got off the train. I was afraid the setup would really not work for me, and I haven’t gone back for the new ones. I keep meaning to.

    @meoskop: Yes, exactly. When you start seeing the scaffolding, the confection aspect often falls apart, to mix metaphors (this is why I don’t write fiction, obviously).

  40. Dabney
    Jun 30, 2012 @ 11:03:19

    @Janine: That’s when I noticed it to. That book just didn’t quite work for me as fun as it was to read.

  41. Dabney
    Jun 30, 2012 @ 11:08:14

    @meoskop: Well said. I have no problem suspending disbelief when the story flows.

  42. Kelly
    Jun 30, 2012 @ 14:40:07

    @etv13:

    I wasn’t commenting on the veracity of Bourne’s spies – I was referring to the complexity of the characters, which is why Chase is an auto-buy for me. I’d hate to think that she’s pressured by her editor or publisher to have a generic titled “jaded rake” hero just so they can put “Duke” or “Earl” or “Lord” on the back cover.

  43. Kristal
    Jun 30, 2012 @ 15:57:30

    It seemed to me that the problem with this book was that the characters were underdeveloped, and certain historical aspects were overdeveloped. Like she was so into using her Nerdy History Girls research, that she forgot to flesh out the people. There was waaay too much about the clothes, even for a story about dressmakers, and carriages, too. Sophy and Harry had no depth to them.

    One can forgive all other implausibilities if only the characters are emotionally engaging.

  44. Janine
    Jun 30, 2012 @ 17:20:45

    @Sunita: I thought Olivia and Pergrine’s book, Last Night’s Scandal, was especially good so if you feel like reading a more recent one, that’s where I would recommend starting.

  45. Lynn S.
    Jul 02, 2012 @ 22:13:13

    I read this over the weekend and I don’t think your grade was curmudgeonly. Actually, if grading on a scale of Chase’s other books, it was generous. When I read Chase I don’t expect grounding in reality. I do expect characters who stride boldly across the pages and pages that are written with panache. Once the book was past the first few chapters, which were so off putting I thought I was reading a farce, the trademark elements of Chase began to emerge but with none of the nuance that her better works possess.

    I’m having a hard time understanding the reason for this trilogy, besides the obvious. You can tell Chase has a love for the clothing of period and the dressmaking business would have been a beautiful framework for the books, but she basically limits herself to description of dresses which makes the books feel like scenes strung together with informational headers. The first book used the dressmaking as a backdrop for a battle of wits, which is a darn shame as the duke’s entrepreneurial bent was probably the most interesting aspect of the book. What little was built in that book falls away here and Chase uses the plot device of a supposed concern for the business as a seque to a road trip and then a sting. Why? I would pray for poor Leonie except that she is a cipher; a red-headed cipherer who is also apparently a financial genius even though the business is constantly on the edge of ruin. With as little emphasis as there is on the sisters or the dressmaking, Chase could drag this to a quartet and give Lady Clara a story. There doesn’t appear to be any thematic element at work except the typical “woe is me, it’s damn hard to be a woman in 19th century England.”

    At this point I’m officially concerned about Chase, concerned and more than a bit irritated.

  46. Jane
    Jul 03, 2012 @ 09:36:15

    @Lynn S – I did believe that there would be a Clara story. Is it only a trilogy?

  47. Lynn S.
    Jul 03, 2012 @ 18:56:45

    @Jane: Not sure. If you think there is going to be a Clara story, there probably will be. You’re definitely more in the loop than I am. When the first book came out I assumed a trilogy, but since Clara seems to be the main link, I’m guessing there will be a book for her. Since I’m a completist, I’ll have to read it, no matter how far Chase veers off course. Maybe she’ll wander all the way back around again and give us something lovely.

    I am curious as to who Mr. Bates is. Apparently my irritation is waning.

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