The Siren of Sussex by Mimi Matthews

Once in a blue moon, you open a book, begin to read, and get hit by that feeling — that warm glow in your heart that whispers “this one” — and you just know you’re in for a treat. That’s how I felt starting Mimi Matthews’s new Victorian romance, The Siren of Sussex. And I wasn’t disappointed. Once again, Matthews has created something truly special, and I’m so excited to share my latest love with you.

Evelyn Maltravers has no fortune and four younger sisters depending on her to make a success of her one London season. Knowing she is at her most confident and appealing on horseback, she makes a daring plan, “proceeding from a position of strength,” and focuses on her debut on Rotten Row above her debut in society’s ballrooms. Half-Indian dressmaker Ahmad Malik has plans to open his own dress shop, but he needs someone to wear his creations to the season’s events and help make his name. In the meantime, he’s making the best riding habits in London… until fate deals a blow and he proposes to gamble everything on making Evelyn the best dressed — and most desirable — lady in London. But with her marriage prospects (and by extension, her family’s livelihood) and his business entwined, what happens when they fall for each other? Can this unlikely pair overcome circumstances, as well as class and racial differences, to find a happily ever after?

I’ll get into the characters and romance in a minute, but first, let’s talk fashion. Anyone who’s read romance novels knows there’s usually some focus on dress. And why not? We’re here for fantasy, and part of that is pretty pretty dresses — and occasionally, a sharp suit for the gents! For me, personally, this can get a little old, especially if the author spends a lot of time on it. But here, the fashion is integral to the story. Ahmad’s designs shape the way he thinks, give Evelyn confidence, and help drive the plot. So, spending a full paragraph or more on the color and cut of a garment? It makes sense and it’s actually interesting! Matthews clearly did her research, so the designs and discussions around them are informed and period-appropriate. If you’ve read Matthews before, this attention to detail won’t surprise you.

Likewise, Matthews is an enthusiastic rider and horse-lover, and just as her fashion research enriches Ahmad’s characterization, her experience here adds to Evelyn’s portrayal. The novel is dedicated to Matthews’s late Andalusian dressage horse, Centelleo, and her love for him shines through in Evelyn’s relationship with her own equine companion, Hephaestus. The scenes on horseback are more than the typical hand-wavey “she is an excellent horsewoman” type, as we actually see how Evelyn thinks through her commands and works with Hephaestus — and how she carries this mindset into others areas of her life, drawing on her experience working with Hephaestus as a partner as she learns to partner with Ahmad for other purposes.

Which brings us to the romance! I love that, while the attraction is immediate, the relationship itself is based on friendship and mutual respect as much as on physical desire. Evelyn and Ahmad see things in each other that others overlook and encourage each other at every step, whether it’s a personal or professional matter. Watching them work together and grow in trust and affection was so satisfying… and yes, incredibly swoony.

Because there are so many social barriers between them and because Matthews and her characters don’t take any of those lightly, this is a true slow burn romance (my favorite, done right!). Every touch and glance is guaranteed to have you sighing and screaming, “Just kiss already!” — even as you completely understand why things aren’t progressing faster. But watching them work their way toward each other is what makes their eventual coming together so sweet and satisfying, as they learn to understand where the other is coming from, both geographically and emotionally. Their happily ever after feels earned in every sense. Evelyn and Ahmad are already among my favorite characters and favorite couples of 2022, and with the book releasing on January 11, that sets the bar high and early for the rest of the year.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for providing an e-ARC for an honest review.


4 thoughts on “The Siren of Sussex by Mimi Matthews

  1. Omgoodness, you’ve completely sold me on reading this book Every aspect of it sounds so well detailed and thought-out and just reading about this couple has me feeling giddy with excitement at the prospect of their slow-burn romance 😍 Fab review!

    Liked by 1 person

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