Figures in Silk
William Morrow, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, Audio, CD, e-Book
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Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth
igures in Silk
, by Vanora Bennett, author of
Portrait of an Unknown Woman
, transports the reader back in time and place to spring of 1471 in medieval England under the reign of King Edward IV. We are introduced to the start of the silk weaving trade in London twelve years later.
his tale of two sisters - as unalike as sisters can be - is recounted as Jane Shore has a notorious liaison with King Edward while her sister Isabel Claver falls in love with the silk trade and begins to prosper. The turbulent times sweep them along to their destinies as the reader becomes totally engrossed, feeling that he or she is hearing the street sounds and smelling the cooking fires. Intrigue is rampant.
he place in this rigorously researched novel is as much a character as the people between the pages. The reader gets more than a taste of what life was like in those times just after the Black Plague - the clothes worn by royalty as well as those of common folk; the foods available to them at the time; the political theme running through the whole story, ending in what was called the War of the Roses.
reachery, heartbreak, love and passion, stoicism, executions and murder. What a range to fit into one book, but Bennett has managed this and has the story move along at a fast clip, making it very hard to put down.
2nd Review by Barbara Lingens:
his is a most satisfying story because it looks at life in Britain at the time of the War of the Roses not as a story of royalty, but rather as a tale of the people of the emerging middle class. Author Vanora Bennett helps us understand the new importance of the merchants, who actually did finance royalty.
n particular, we learn about silk merchants and how they worked together with the silkwomen. Although women could set themselves up in business, they were not allowed to join the Mercers' Company and therefore had to depend on the men who could. Since the best silks were usually imported, relations with the various foreign exporters had to be cultivated. A big disadvantage was that no one in England had the expertise or monetary support to weave silk into whole cloth. And it is this lack around which the story turns.
sabel, a very enterprising young woman, learns the silk trade from the bottom up and, through her sister's influence, is able not only to get royal commissions but also permission and support from the king to start making silk into whole cloth. This is a huge undertaking, developed in a very interesting way by the author. Sister Jane Shore, an historical figure, has romantic connections to the king and several dukes, and her rise as mistress to the king, her fall after his death and subsequent marriage to her lawyer are well portrayed. Through Isabel and her own royal romantic adventures, we follow the historical events that begin with King Edward IV's death. It is quite interesting to see how she matures in her personal as well as her professional life, despite severe setbacks.
his is a lovely story, very well researched so we feel a part of the action and not distanced by time. This was a turbulent era, and author Bennett has detailed it in a way that makes it richly understandable to us.
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