This is a highly enjoyable romp through the lives of French aristocrats, smugglers and the poorest of Paris during the 17th century. The impoverished protagonist, Mlle. Victoire de Berenguer from a noble family, has found a way to smuggle fanciful dyed cotton into the City. She earns an income using her entrée into the highest levels of society and an accomplished staff of sewists to create magical outfits for the fashionistas of the day. But this is a dangerous source of income: the Emperor has prohibited the import of dyed cotton fabric in an effort to bolster the sagging fortunes of the weavers’ guilds producing fine brocades, silks and linens. The narrative is set against a thriving black market, as the wealthy gentry try to outshine one another in the fashionable India and Far Eastern cottons channelled through Italy. In the grand tradition of such pure romance, there lurk corrupt officials and a charmingly disingenuous antihero, Robert de Vimoutiers.
Michael Skeet is a new author for me. His writing is precise and descriptive, adroitly filling in the backstory without pulling the reader out of the story. There were occasions where I was confused by the characters’ names and their relationships within the complex Parisian society of the day. As the adventure progressed, the key names became familiar, and the characterizations more vivid. I dithered in rating the book, because the tale seemed to gallop roughshod over the action towards the dénouement. The reveal was a little too prophetic, so lost its surprise twist impact. However, my enjoyment of the main characters made up for this fumble, and may not strike other readers as a disappointing closing. The hint of a third adventure at the end certainly encourages me to be on the look out for a possible sequel. Meanwhile, I’m on the hunt for the novel with Robert de Vimoutiers’ backstory, A Poisoned Prayer (2017).