Tuesday, August 8, 2023

The Siren of Sussex by Mimi Matthews


When I saw Kristina's review of THE SIREN OF SUSSEX, my interest was piqued. The cover had initially captured my eye because it felt like such a throwback to those retro historicals of the 70s and 80s, with the big, bold marquee-style font, some of which even featured the hero or the heroine (or both) on horseback.

That's where the similarity ends, though. This is a very nuanced book, and totally devoid of spice (RIP, smut). Instead, it is a sensual, relationship-focused book between a horsewoman named Evelyn and a tailor named Ahmad. Evelyn comes from a good family but her reputation is threatened because her sister absconded with their titled neighbor's son, and is now living "in sin" with him in France. She needs to make a marriage of her own to save her own siblings' prospects and reputations but she's hopeless in a ballroom, so she decides the best way to catch the eye of the public is by showing off her equestrienne skills in fine clothes, just like The Pretty Horsebreakers.

Ahmad, on the other hand, is a biracial man of Indian decent who works in a tailor shop. People often mistake him for the help but he's actually next in line to own it. The women who pay for his services take advantage of his precarious situation in society to both sexually harass him and stiff him on the bill, and he puts up with it because he can't afford to alienate any patrons. Which is why he's surprised and delighted when Evelyn comes to him and make her demands. With a partnership of this nature, her being seen and admired will get them both what they want.

This was just such a great book. I know I have some friends who NEED smut in their romance or they're bored, but for me, the emotional connection and intimacy between the characters is way more important than sex. Like, I prefer to have both, but if given the choice between an erotica novel that doesn't have much story or connection, just tons of hot sex, or a romance novel that is entirely emotionally driven and filled with pining, I'll choose the later even if they don't bang. Mimi Matthews made eye contact and hand holding what some authors can't even do with a touch on the thigh, okay? There was PINING. There was CONNECTION. There was ROMANCE.

Ahmad is also just such a great hero. He sewed pockets into her dress for her glasses! He helped her find her missing sister and escorted her through the worst part of London to make sure she didn't get hurt. :') And he was just so perfect for Evelyn, who is my favorite no-nonsense sort of heroine. I also loved that the author gave her a big nose and glasses. When you read book after book with stunningly beautiful heroine, it's fun to encounter characters with less conventional features. I also liked that one of Evelyn's friends has prematurely gray hair. Little things like that just feel so inclusive, you know?

If you're looking for a solid romance with an anti-colonialism narrative, a beautiful love story, and a relatively realistic (I mean, what do I know?) and well-researched historical setting, read this book. It's perfect for the horse girlies out there who grew up with My Little Pony and Misty and thought to themselves, "What next?!"

4 out of 5 stars

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