Silk Is for Seduction, by Loretta Chase

>> Thursday, October 06, 2011

TITLE: Silk Is for Seduction
AUTHOR: Loretta Chase

PAGES: 384

SETTING: 19th century Paris and England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: First in the Dressmakers series

From the Design Book of Marcelline Noirot: The allure of the perfect gown should be twofold: ladies would die to wear it . . . and gentlemen would kill to remove it!

 Brilliant and ambitious dressmaker Marcelline Noirot is London's rising star. And who better to benefit from her talent than the worst-dressed lady in the ton, the Duke of Clevedon's intended bride? Winning the future duchess's patronage means prestige and fortune for Marcelline and her sisters. To get to the lady, though, Marcelline must win over Clevedon, whose standards are as high as his morals are . . . not. 

The prize seems well worth the risk—but this time Marcelline's met her match. Clevedon can design a seduction as irresistible as her dresses; and what begins as a flicker of desire between two of the most passionately stubborn charmers in London soon ignites into a delicious inferno . . . and a blazing scandal.

And now both their futures hang by an exquisite thread of silk...

Marcelline Noirot and her two sisters run the absolute best dressmakers in London. Unfortunately, they're having a little bit of trouble becoming established, since the ladies of the ton are too conservative and risk-averse to go somewhere other than where everyone else is going. Although there are a few ladies who have been persuaded to patronise Maison Noirot, none of them are high-born enough to convince the rest to follow them.

But the Noirots have a plan. The rumour about town is that the Duke of Clevendon has finally been persuaded to come back from the continent and propose to Lady Clara, the young woman he's been informally promised to for years. And duke with deep pockets + beautiful, high-born bride, well-known for dressing dowdily = the perfect opportunity for an ambitious dressmaker.

The Noirots are too cunning for directness, and the oblique approach they come up with involves Marcelline travelling to Paris, running into Clevendon and attracting his attention. Which, since Marcelline is a genius at being alluring and irresistible, she does. But it turns out she's captured Clevendon's attention a bit too well, and he's captured hers just as much.

This out of the way first: this clever, clever plan of theirs, which is presented as proof of how fantastically cunning the Noirots are, and how adept at getting their own way? Not as clever as Chase tells us it is. I'd describe it as pretty stupid, in fact. Whatever made them think that manouvering a duke into interacting socially with a tradesperson and acknowledging her as an attractive, sexy woman would convince him to encourage his future, virginal bride to patronise her, I don't know. Of course, it works here, but I very much doubt it would have in any version of real life.

But you know what? I didn't care. Even as I told myself that, I was so completely charmed by this book and captivated by the romance that I loved every second of it. It's a frothy confection of a story, but one that has quite a bit of angst and heart to it, as well.

Marcelline is a total goddess, and I loved her to pieces. She's confident and comfortable in herself, and knows perfectly well what she can expect from Clevendon and what she can't. And yet, there's something about him that makes her do things she knows perfectly well she shouldn't do. Clevendon might have a nobleman's arrogance and the power to ignore social consequences, but Marcelline is aware of the consequences his actions might have. She doesn't completely forget about her purposes in meeting Clevendon in the first place just because she's attracted to him, and Chase successfully establishes why that should be, why Maison Noirot means so much to the sisters.

Clevendon is, in many ways, a much more thoughtless character than Marcelline, but as I mentioned above, this perfectly reflects who he is. He's never had to think about what Marcelline must obsessively consider. This means that it's a thin line he walks between crazy in love with Marcelline and selfishly going after what he wants, with no thought to what this might mean to this woman he's so captivated by.

Readers should know before going in that for much of the book, Clevendon still intends to marry Lady Clara, even as he tirelessly pursues Marcelline. I'm pretty uptight about infidelity in my romances, but I wasn't particularly bothered by this. I saw it more as a situation where someone had been brought up with the idea that "this is what one does", and has never actually stopped to think that he doesn't actually have to do it.

The first sections of the story take place in Paris, where we have an intense focus on Clevendon and Marcelline. The focus widens when they return to London, but any loss of intensity in the relationship is more than compensated by the fantastic secondary characters. I especially appreciated that Lady Clara was no one-note horrible character, whom Clevendon could dump without a second thought. She was real and she was lovely, it was just that those two wouldn't suit. I really would love to see more of her in future books. 

My favourite of the secondary characters, however, was Lucie, Marcelline's young daughter. Yep, a child character. I loved her much in the way I love JAK's dust-bunnies in her Jayne Castle books unreservedly, but feeling somewhat embarrassed about it. But seriously, how could I not love a little girl who solemnly announces she has changed her name to Errol, and then cooly proceeds to charm the adults around her? And also, Princess Errol of Albania, indeed!



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