Brilliant and ambitious dressmaker Marcelline Noirot s 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’ 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…
Rating: A+ for narration, B+ for content
Kate Reading’s narration of Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels is an audio triumph, an absolutely perfect meshing of one of the best historical romances with a nuanced and note-perfect performance by a highly talented narrator. Naturally, seeing that Ms. Reading had been engaged to narrate the audiobook versions of Ms. Chase’s latest Dressmakers series was reason to celebrate; although let’s face it, Lord of Scoundrels is bound to be a tough act to follow.
Ms. Reading has absolutely fulfilled – if not exceeded – expectations with yet another extremely enjoyable and accomplished performance, although I have to say that I don’t think Silk is for Seduction is as strong a novel as Lord of Scoundrels. It does, however, contain some of Loretta Chase’s hallmarks: an independent-minded, strong-willed heroine, an aristocratic, alpha-hero who is able to match her in intelligence and equal her in stubbornness, a lot of dry wit and sharp-tongued banter, and sexual tension you could cut with a knife.
Marcelline Noirot and her two sisters run a successful dressmaking business in London and are determined to become the MOST successful dressmaking business in London by increasing their roster of high-ranking clientele. Marcelline knows that if she can acquire the soon-to-be Duchess of Clevedon as a client, Noirot’s will eclipse all its competitors, and with that aim, she travels to Paris to ensnare not the lady, but her fiancé. After all, once married, it is he who will be paying the bills.
The Duke of Clevedon embarked on a Grand Tour three years ago but remained in Paris at its end, instead of returning home to England. There, he spends most of his time carousing with his friends and bedding beautiful women. Despite the latter, he has an “understanding” with his best friend’s sister, Lady Clara Fairfax, whom he has known since childhood. He genuinely plans to marry her, just – not yet.
Marcelline is both devious and relentless in her pursuit of Clevedon. She makes it very clear to him early on that she is seeking him out for the size of his wallet rather than the size of any of his other appendages. Despite not being a conventional beauty, she is a woman who oozes self-confidence and sex-appeal, who knows full well the effect that can be achieved by good carriage and the relatively simple matter of wearing the right, beautifully made clothes. Clevedon is well-and-truly hooked from the first moment he lays eyes on her.
Yet Marcelline finds it difficult to maintain her imperturbable exterior and her focus. Having seen Cleveden very occasionally in the past, she’s aware he’s an attractive man, but up close, he’s drop-dead gorgeous, matches her barb for barb, and she senses in him a kindred spirit.
He was a predator. So was she.
For the first time in years, she finds herself in lust and in danger of allowing it to distract her. She has bitten off more than she can chew. Cleveden continues to make his presence felt in Marcelline’s life and against her will and her better judgement, she finds herself coming to depend on him.
It’s difficult to make a sympathetic hero of a man who spends ninety percent of a book planning to marry (and insisting that he loves) a woman other than the heroine. But even so, for the most part, he is an attractive hero – sexy, witty and self-assured. Fortunately, the true nature of Clevedon’s feelings for Lady Clara is apparent to the listener and to Lady Clara long before it is to the man himself, which helps to redeem him somewhat. He is, however, often in danger of being overshadowed as a character by Marcelline who is utterly compelling, even if, at first, she is difficult to like.
She’s tough, ruthless, manipulative, mercenary, and single-mindedly focused on her goal of expanding her business, all qualities which are undoubtedly necessary in order to become and remain successful in a competitive field. She is also devoted to her two younger sisters, who help her to run the business, and Lucie, her six-year-old daughter who is quite a handful! She can seem cold, but as we get to know her better, we begin to peek beneath the façade to see a woman required to be strong and forceful most of her life to assure that her dependents are provided for. Despite the fact that she loves her occupation and excels at it, she would nonetheless like someone to lean on occasionally.
At first, I did wonder what – other than his beautiful face and fit body – Marcelline actually saw in Cleveden. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – we are all susceptible to a pretty face, after all! And then I realised that Ms. Chase was allowing the listener to become acquainted with him at the same pace as Marcelline. At first, she’s stunned by his looks and the sheer masculine physicality of him. As she gets to know him better, she is alternately seduced and repelled by his arrogance and then falls utterly in love with the man he never allows anyone to see – the one who understands the needs of a traumatized little girl and her mother’s need for a real home.
The story as a whole is complex and I’ve barely touched the surface here. I especially enjoyed the portrait Ms. Chase paints of what it takes for a woman to be successful in business, emphasizing the importance of reputation and successfully controlling the direction of society gossip when possible. The writing is excellent, full of beautiful, sensual prose and sharp, witty banter. The air between the protagonists fairly sizzles every time they are together. The supporting characters are all well drawn, the romance is skilfully developed, and the characterisations (Marcelline, in particular) are superb.
Kate Reading’s performance is simply outstanding. Her breadth of range in terms of pitch and timbre is impressive and is used to great effect across the wide variety of characters who people the story, from little Lucie to a scheming competitor. Her portrayal of Marcelline is superbly nuanced, as befits a character of such complexity, and Clevedon is given a beautiful, deep huskiness which suits him perfectly. Ms. Reading handles the quick-fire dialogue between the two principals very well, having a wonderfully deadpan style of delivery for Clevedon and a similarly poker-faced style for Marcelline with just a hint of suggestiveness beneath. Her natural, contralto voice is very pleasing to the ear and her narration is clear and well-paced.
I’m eagerly looking forward to listening to the other books in the Dressmakers series.