Title: Vixen in Velvet
Author: Loretta Chase
Series: The Dressmakers
Release Date: June 24, 2014
Reviewing: Advance e-copy
Reason for reading: Received a copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair review. Also, I adore Loretta Chase.
The Short Answer
Strongly recommend! The characters are sharply drawn, with individual quirks, and the unfolding story is very much about the two of them finding their way to each other. I especially love the way Lisburne's growing feelings are shown through his observations about Leonie. For example:
Dressmakers always had sharp things about them -- scissors, needles, pins. He had an odd sensation of having wandered inadvertently into danger.And another one, just for fun:
He was, however, distracted by the stormy picture Leonie Noirot made, in a maniacally feminine concoction of white muslin: the swoosh of the billowing sleeves and the way the overdress-- robe -- whatever it was -- lifted and fell against the dress underneath and the agitated flutter of lace. Her bosom rose and fell, the embroidery and lace like white-capped waves on a tumultuous sea.
It was only a woman in a pet, by no means an unfamiliar sight. all the same, he had to take a moment to slow his breathing to normal and drag his wits out from the dark seas into which they were sinking.
The Whole Scoop
Although this is the third in a trilogy, it stands alone, with no series plot arcs at all. Former characters get an occasional mention, but nothing that went before has a bearing on this story.
It is sometimes hard for me to find new things to say about a favorite author. Sometimes I prefer to just purchase my own copy of the book and read it purely for pleasure, without worrying about how I might review it. In this case though, I was overcome by temptation and accepted the review copy.
As I expect from Chase, the characters are the main delight; the dialog sparkles; the trademark humor, offset by human frailties is there. So what can I say about this book, in particular, that I haven’t said about Chase’s work before? A perfectly objective reader might find the plotting a bit weak. There are a few somewhat muddled threads about a society makeover, a poet, a charity, a scandal, and a bet. But the interactions between Leonie and Lisburne upstage these at every turn. The way they notice each other. The way they learn each other. It’s lovely and entirely romantic, and it totally works for me.
What underpins all these moving pieces, I think, is a story about beauty: what it means, how it is perceived, and how it is valued. When the couple meets, it is at a viewing of a beautiful painting by Botticelli, and the hero and heroine are described as similar to the subjects of the painting. The makeover thread is about changing society’s perception of a young woman from lackluster and clumsy to regal and desirable. The poet in the story has been eviscerated by critics, yet his work is tremendously popular with the young women of the season – perception and value. And of course, Leonie's livelihood depends on making women feel, and be perceived as, beautiful. I have many bits and pieces highlighted in the story supporting this idea, but one of my favorites is when Lisburne, in his pursuit to understand Leonie, discovers the Noirot sisters' charitable efforts to train young women (with otherwise dismal chances) at the sewing professions. Leonie shows him the wares that the girls have sewn and are offered up for sale:
[Lisburne speaking] "Look at them. Little hearts and flowers and curlicues and lilies of the valley and lace. Made by girls who've known mainly deprivation and squalor and violence."In discussing the trilogy with friend, she was troubled by the nobleman-shopkeeper pairing. Historically speaking, a shopkeeper is an entirely different matter than a governess, or a gently-reared girl fallen on hard times, or most of the variations on Cinderella tropes found in Regency romance. I will say that this is pretty easy for me to suspend, but possibly not for everyone. What I see in this trilogy is the effort that Chase goes to to elevate the Noirot sisters from shopkeepers to artists. From seamstress to couturier. To make the readers feel that these dresses, and the entire wardrobes, are indeed, works of beautiful art.
She considered the pincushions and watch guards and mittens and handkerchiefs. "They don't have Botticelli paintings to look at," she said. "If they want beauty in their lives, they have to make it."
"Madame," he said, "is it necessary to break my heart completely?"
In the way of our beloved romance genre, these threads about beauty come to happy endings: the scandal mitigated, the ugly duckling has her transformation, and even the poet gets his girl.
The Bottom Line
If you need a plot-driven, fast-paced, action-oriented story, this might not be for you. But if you are interested in an exploration of character, in watching attraction bloom gradually, with a bit of social commentary as a backdrop, there is no better author to bring that to you than Loretta Chase.
Around the Blogosphere
Long and Short Reviews
Addicted to Romance
Feminist Fairy Tale Reviews
Love Saves the World (she picked my favorite quote too!)