The Dressmakers series is the most recent series offering from veteran author Loretta Chase. The third book, Vixen in Velvet, won’t be available until next June but I am already curious about what may happen next. The series revolves around the three Noirot sisters and their world class dress shop bringing a taste of France’s style to dreary, conservative London.
The first two novels are filled with beautiful clothing descriptions of fancy ball gowns; in fact, a recent Library Journal article comments on the clothing descriptions, and Chase confesses she spent many hours studying 1830s clothing and picking the brains of the milliners and tailors in Colonial Williamsburg, so it would be fair to guess that a lot of what is covered is very accurate. You have a sense of place with the shop and a sense of the people who interact with the sisters. The first book sets us up for the second, but Scandal Wears Satin, the second book, felt incomplete, even after finishing it. What you do not have a sense of is any idea what may happen for our third sister.
In the first book, Silk is for Seduction, plucky heroine Marcelline goes off to Paris to tempt the erstwhile Duke of Clevedon with beautiful clothing in hopes of dressing his future duchess, Lady Clara. Over the course of the book, he falls in love with her, she with him, the original duchess-to-be finds herself (although she loses a fiancé), all while wearing absolutely stunning clothing. Marcelline is the creative mastermind behind the sisters’ dress shop, and part of the conflict within the novel is a rival shop that appears to be stealing their ideas. While the Duke and Marcelline are busy falling in love, the sisters are also hatching a plot to catch the mole in their midst, whose capture is a turning point in the novel. In the end, convention is thrown to the wind as the Duke marries a shopkeeper. Quel horreur!
What sparked my interest in the series as a whole is the moment in the first book where you saw the sequel coming: One of the younger sisters, Sophia, lays eyes on Lord Longmore for the first time. True to the rules of sequels, he happens to be the older brother of Lady Clara and close friends with the Duke of Clevedon. She has feelings for him almost immediately when they met and he cannot get her out of his mind. Also true to the standards of romance novels, we continue the story of Lady Clara as she stumbles with her new-found identity of confident, flirtatious belle of the ball.
Scandal Wears Satin is interesting because it fleshes out the backstory of our three dressmakers by explaining why they move so well in aristocracy, but consider themselves apart from it all. We also get to watch how terribly useful it is to know people at all levels of Society, as we have to find information without the beau monde being alerted to a disturbance in their midst. All’s well that ends well here and Society has a quiet fit over these shopkeepers invading their world.
But it’s hard to figure out what will happen in the third book. In the first novel, the next leading characters were telegraphed so clearly it was easy to guess the next story. In the second, there is no hint. The third sister, Leonie, is the financial wizard of the shop to Marcelline’s creative and Sophia’s publicity talents, and she plays such a minor role in the second book that it and the shop barely exist. The rival shop is back in the second book, but does not feel as present a threat as it was in the first novel. No brother or other best friend of Longmore’s appears during the process, nor is there a minor male character who might be a driving force. The other story arc for the trilogy, Lady Clara, is still on the Marriage Mart as well.
I do enjoy it when authors believably break and bend the standards in different ways. There are some series where I can guess what’s going to happen and see the match-ups almost immediately, while others have a built in formula for how pairs are going to happen. There are authors I have read that by the midway point of the first book, you can see all the pairings in the series and yet I still read all of the books just to see how it all unfolds. What occasionally throws me is a series like this one where you know there will be three books, but by the end of the second you are no longer sure about it. Rebecca Hagan Lee did this to me with the Free Fellows League when she promoted two background characters to their own novel. This series reminds me of that set up. I want Lady Clara to have her own book; I just do not know how we are going to get there. Hopefully next summer I will get to find out.
Rae herds cats for a living as a project manager & theatrical stage manager and is kept hopping at home with an energetic toddler and a music-afficianado husband. She can be found online at RaesAlley or on Twitter as @rszalley.