Audiobook Review: The Siren of Sussex by Mimi Matthews

The Siren of Sussex by Mimi Matthews
The Siren of Sussex
Mimi Matthews
Narrators: Vidish Athavale & Lydia Hanman
Publisher: Berkley
Publication Date: January 11, 2022
Series or Standalone: Belles of London
Links: Amazon Barnes & NobleGoodreadsStoryGraph
Overall Rating: 3 Stars
Performance Rating: 3.5 Stars
Story Rating:3 Stars

MY REVIEW

CW: Racism/racial slurs; misogyny/sexism; sexual harrasment; colonization; death of parent; references to suicide, pregnancy, abandonment

The Siren of Sussex was not as tempting as I hoped it would be. First, it should be said that while this is marketed as a romance, it is a closed-door romance. Second, it felt much more like historical fiction than historical romance. And third, listening to this as an audiobook was not the right move. 

If you go into this book expecting a historical romance novel, this book probably won’t be for you. I knew going in it was closed door, yet I was still bummed by how lacking the romance felt. I wanted so much more from Evelyn and Ahmed’s “relationship.” While they spent a lot of time together, I didn’t see any chemistry between them. No sparks, no banter, no wistful gazing. Nothing. I need that to keep invested in a romance, especially when it’s closed door. I think this book did suffer from being closed door as it was hard to buy Ahmed and Evelyn were so madly in love that they were willing to get married at the end and screw society’s expectations. This made the characters feel much younger than they are – the romance would have felt more fitting in a YA romance than an adult romance. 

However, that’s not to say it’s all bad. I did appreciate that the obstacles in their relationship were real obstacles. He’s half-Indian and a tailor; she’s a white, wealthy woman. Their being together was not something that would be easy or accepted by society. As a result, the romance was relatively low-angst as it was external pressures on them, so if you like that, you might enjoy this book more than me.

When it comes to the characters, I’ll have to be honest, Ahmed is the only one who left an impression on me. I’m reviewing this book a few months after reading it, and Evelyn just didn’t leave a mark. Her whole personality felt wrapped up in being a horsebreaker, and I didn’t get to know her beyond that. Meanwhile, with Ahmed, he felt like a more nuanced and richly complex character with a fully fleshed-out backstory. I liked how Matthews handled Ahmed’s complicated feelings about being biracial – he’s half-Indian and half-British and feels like an outsider amongst both people. In my opinion, he had more motivation and drive behind his actions than Evelyn.

If I had to sum up the plot, it would be that Evelyn needs eye-catching clothing worthy of a horsebreaker to attract a suitable suitor. She partners up with Ahmed as he has a skill for designing fetching gowns for women, plus her wearing his designs will help him generate business. It’s a relatively straightforward plot, and I found it a bit boring, to be honest. There were also a TON of random side plots that didn’t necessarily go anywhere of importance or contribute to the main plot, so the book did feel like it dragged at points.

Now, I won’t say this book is all bad. I loved all the historical information in it! Matthews has crafted a vibrant and detailed look at Victorian England. I loved learning about the Pretty Horsebreakers, as I had never heard about them before. You can tell Matthews has done a lot of research on the topic, and I think that pays off in helping you feel immersed in the time and setting. This is why this book is a great historical fiction story, but not a great historical romance.  And while not everything about this book worked for me, I enjoyed Matthews’ writing style.

Finally, as I listened to this as an audiobook, I have to talk about the choices made with the narration. I am still BAFFLED why this book needed two narrators. Yes, I know the book does technically have two points of view, but the execution could have been better. It was so, so, so jarring when the narrator would switch in the middle of a scene. I get it may have been written with breaks in the books to indicate a POV switch, but every time it happened with the narration, it threw me for a loop and took me out of the scene, sometimes at pivotal emotional moments. As for the narrators, I did think their performance was quite good, though I enjoyed Lydia Hanman’s narration a bit more than Vidish Athavale’s (his female voices weren’t great). If I could read this book again, I would pick it up in print over audio.

There isn’t anything egregiously wrong with this book, but all the little things made it hard for it to capture my attention the way I hoped. I do think there are readers, particularly those who don’t like a lot of spice, who will enjoy this as a romance. But I like my historical romances to have a bit more chemistry between the leads, especially if it’s closed-door. I’m on the fence if I’ll pick up the next book in the series – I liked the couple it was hinting at for the next book, but I’m not sure I’m invested enough in the series to spend the time reading it. I guess time will tell if I continue on or not. 

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