At a certain point every successful author hits the invisible wall where no book can ever measure up to the book the reader thinks the author should have written. Either it’s too this or it’s not enough that. If you’ve really made it, they will claim that you phoned it in while sipping Mai Tai’s on The Cartland or hired ghostwriters while you ate bonbons with Other Famous Writers and giggled about the ease with which one can dupe the book buying public.
So she can’t win.
Loretta Chase could be forgiven for giving up or phoning it in considering nothing she writes is ever again going to surprise us with it’s brilliance. With Silk Is For Seduction she’s done neither. Chase has started a new series with an absolute joy of a heroine. Single mother, successful business woman, frantic older sister keeping too many balls in the air – Noirot is wonderful. I loved her clear eyed cynicism, her unapologetic ambition, her realistic parental fatigue and her willingness to say “Screw it” occasionally and embrace life. When we meet her, she’s chasing a Duke. (Because there is always a Duke, isn’t there?) Choosing the incredibly underused time between George IV and Victoria (Is this the first King William IV romance? I think it might be. I can’t recall another.) Chase sets Noirot after the Duke intent on capturing his future wife’s patronage. Not him.
The Duke isn’t really there for me. When I think about him he’s kind of great, but on the page he was The Guy Noirot Is Talking To. But hey, he’s a Duke and apparently the only one around. He’s into her being a working woman, he never degrades her for it. Over the course of the book he grows up a fair amount, he’s good with kids, he knows how to apologize and to grovel if he needs to, but he’s still The Duke to me. I was bracing myself for the moment where he asks her to give up her independence for love, but it never comes. He actually respects her. (I know!) So that’s a win.
What keeps me from being over the moon about Silk for Seduction is a bit of a drag in the middle and a slice of the Master Race. When you start the book you know Noirot has the proper degree of inbreeding for acceptance among the nobility, if not the proper amount of cash. The Duke has an annual income I calculated to be about 83 million bucks a year. (I dunno, you do that math, it’s complicated due to fluctuations in buying power and stuff like that, but he has an income of 100K in 1830-whatever.) You’d think, with 83 million bucks a year, that he could just buy some friends if they don’t like her. I guess not, because there are several mentions of Noirot having the right ancestry. It’s not that she looks great (she does) speaks well (you know it) or has flawless manners (give that a check mark) she’s one of the servants betters. His staff is all, oh, we can totally tell. She is the Princess to our Peas. That one, she’s Nobility By Birth and all.
Look, I am not unfamiliar with the inbred classes. They are as varied as the rest of us. Take away their cell phones, dump them on Survivor, and you’d have a hard time basing personal worth on their DNA. I do not deny the class system or the realities of Ducal Mating, but c’mon. Even the wage slaves have to claim roses fall from her lips when she speaks? She can’t just be a hard working single mom without the genetic stock showing through? It sort of does Noirot a disservice. She can’t simply be a kick ass woman, she has to be a woman who is kick ass through the power of Eugenics. I’d rather she had one of those pyramids made out of drinking straws people hung over waterbeds in the 1970’s. The science is roughly equivalent. (I had a fun fact for you as a reward for making it through that rant, but I think we’ll just stop with Pyramid Power. That’s fun enough.)