She is a fabulous storyteller. Mario Vargos Llosa, winner of the Nobel Prize in lieterature calls this "A wonderful novel, with intrigue, love, and mystery."
Duenas has a Ph.D. in English philology, which is the study of language in written historical sources. Wikipedia explains it as the study of literary texts and written records, the establishment of their authenticity and their original form, and the determination of their meaning. I mention this because at the end of the novel, the author attributes her sources, which run three pages of dense text.
Yes, this is chic lit, but it is smart chic lit. Historically true to fact, it was interesting to learn about Franco's impact on people living in Spain and Morocco and the events leading up to World War 2 in this part of the world. It is as easy to fall in love with the scenery as it is with the characters.
Sira comes into her own during the course of time, evolving from a naive girl easily swayed by others to someone not only in control of her own life, but with enough personal power and confidence to influence historical events.
"I decided to change to remake myself altogether, unburdening myself of the old baggage to start from scratch... In the previous few months I'd slammed the door on my entire yesterday; I'd stopped being a humble dressmaker and transformed myself successfully into a whole heap of different women. A civil service candidate, heiress of a major industrialist, globetrotting lover to a scoundrel, hopeful aspirant to run an Argentine company, frustrated mother of an unborn child, a woman suspected of fraud and theft in debt up to her eyebrows, and a gunrunner camouflaged as an innocent woman."
The transformations begins very early on, with the quote above taken from page 142 of 609 pages. Still to come is the successful couturier and owner of an exclusive atelier, and later, a spy.
As a couturier she infiltrates high society and eavesdrops on the wives of the political heavyweights as they reveal their husbands' whereabouts; as a spy she makes dress patterns in stitched Morse Code to deliver secret information. The description of one of the gowns was so vivid I had to look it up... the Delphos, an absolute stunner. You could say her two trades as a couturier and spy, are as fitting as this Fortuny dress.