I've loved the first two books in Chase's "Dressmaker" series and eagerly anticipated the release of Leonie Noirot's book. "Vixen in Velvet" started off with such promise; the first chapter held my attention and immediately set the stage for attraction and banter between Leonie and Simon, the Marquess of Lisburne. In fact, I would say the first 40% of this book was excellent and up to par with the earlier 2 books in the series. But sadly, the well set-up story arc fizzled into the mundane. If you've enjoyed the series, then you're going to need to read this book, but it's likely to be you're least favorite. Also, you really should read the previous 2 stories before reading this book. "Vixen in Velvet" offers only a glimpse of the historic struggles that the sisters of Maison Noirot have endured; and Chase gives the barest details of the sisters' relationships and previous storylines. All that being said, Chase is still an excellent writer and the book moved along and was enjoyed. It simply wasn't all that memorable and I don't think Chase ever truly developed Leonie into a unique, unforgettable character.
***SPOILER ALERT - DON'T READ FURTHER IF YOU DON'T WANT TO LEARN SOME PLOT DETAILS***
I have a few key issues with this story that made it fall flat for me.
1) Sophie does not appear in this book until the very last chapter and I don't even recall a line of dialogue. Marcelline might as well have been left out because she adds nothing to the story the few times she appears. The series went from having the sisters' relationships being a central (and enriching) part of the series to Leonie standing alone. I greatly missed the other sisters, who were each such strong and interesting characters.
2) In the previous books, each sister had very strong and unique character traits. Marcelline was seductive and a master at flirting. Sophie was a master of disguise and turning drama into revenue for the shop. Leonie's defining characteristics seem to be OCD (extreme need to keep order in her office) and a love of accounting. Chase never develops Leonie into her own, unique character, which is unfortunate because without the other sister being involved in the story, Leonie never develops into the amazing character you are so hoping she will. Also, Chase seems to give up on giving Leonie her own unique traits by saying several times that Leonie also has some powers of seduction and also can blend into the background when needed. It comes off as Leonie being a lesser version of her sisters' striking talents.
3) Scenes within the shop and with customers are so enjoyable and central to the prior 2 books. The termagant cousin of Lady Clara, Gladys, sets the stage nicely for that thread to continue in this book. Gladys throws temper tantrums and there were several places where Chase could have written fabulous scenes showing how Leonie can manipulate the customer, but these scenes fall flat. And most importantly, we never know the details of how Leonie gets Gladys to make a spectacular transformation. Once again, the stage was well set by Chase, but the actors never delivered.
4) It very much felt like Lady Clara was thrown into this book just to keep her thread running through the series since her story is next. She really didn't add anything to the book and I didn't learn anything new about her.
5) While Leonie and Simon have initial chemistry and their early flirtations are quite enjoyable, Leonie's character lacks any authentic-feeling turmoil to make me believe there's any reason for her not to fall directly into bed with Simon. Chase wants the reader to believe that Leonie is wed to the shop and business as a way to remain close to her beloved, deceased aunt, who had taught all of the Noirot girls about being dressmakers. I could have bought that as a reason, but no real angst was shown or developed so it seems like a silly reason, instead of a deeply emotional one. Also, Leonie regularly thinks that aristocrats will do what they like and that Simon would never settle down with her. Ok, really? The eldest sister is married to a Duke and the middle sister is married to a high ranking lord. It's not even remotely feasible that Leonie would think she can't make a match with the Marquess of Lisburne. The class difference between a Duke and dressmaker was a great plot line in the first book, but it doesn't work in the third book with the already married sisters highly ranked and regarded well.
6) Leonie falls in love and I just didn't feel it. There wasn't that deep emotion that I felt between the Duke and Marcelline. The story jumped from good flirtation to suddenly in love over having had an exhausting day and Simon making her some sandwiches. That's not love, that's being overwrought and vulnerable.
7) Leonie "leaves" Simon before he can leave her (and break her heart in the process), except that it's the least dramatic or emotional "leaving" scene ever. It's about 80% into the book and Simon basically knows he's going to win her back. I didn't feel the loss on either character's part. At this point, the book already felt like it was going through the motions, rather than wrapping up any true emotional arc.
8) The subplot of someone spreading rumors that hurt Simon's cousin and also Maison Noirot was so forced and predictable. And, most importantly, it didn't help to flesh out the characters. It felt like some sort of drama was necessary so Chase wrote in that part of the story.
I still love Chase as an author and will continue to read her work, but this book feels like Chase never fully figured out how to make Leonie and Simon's story stand apart, beginning with creating Leonie as an amazing character with attributes that would make her stand out. It fell flat and felt route, especially when compared to how "Silk is for Seduction" was such a refreshing new take on this genre. It was still an enjoyable read, but totally forgettable and not one I'll pick up again.