FIGURES IN SILK
Author: Vanora Bennett ISBN: 9780061765209 4/2009 HISTORICAL FICTION Publisher: HARPER COLLINS
Time Period: 1400s England
When silk merchant John Lambert marries off his two beautiful daughters, their fortunes are forever changed. Elder daughter Jane Shore begins a notorious liaison with the king while industrious and clever Isabel finds herself married into the house of Claver, a wealthy silk dynasty. Fate delivers Isabel a challenge when her new husband is killed and she is forced into apprenticeship to her mother-in-law, Alice Claver.
It is from Alice Claver that Isabel learns to love silk and the exotic and passionate fabrics from Italy, Persia, Spain, Tunisia, and beyond. Isabel learns to make her way in this new world of silk—to find friends and enemies—and she strikes an alliance with her sister's lover, King Edward IV, that will bring the secrets of silk-making to London. As Isabel grows in power and her plan for a silk industry run by Englishwomen is set into motion, the political landscape shifts in dangerous ways. One sister will fall as the other rises and choices must be made that will change their lives forever.
RRAH's THOUGHTS AND PONDERINGS:
I admit, I've never given too much thought to the silk trade or politics of fifteenth-century England. FIGURES IN SILK brings both topics to play, weaving intrigue, women's social roles and the machinations of the English court into a vivid story. I enjoyed this book very much, and feel as if I've had a tutorial while being entertained.
When two sisters are used to straighten out a family's social and financial snafus, they begin a journey that is a real eye-opener. Jane learns how to bend men to do her bidding, while keeping the appearance that she is the woman bowing to a man's needs. She shows that even when wielding a handkerchief taken from the sleeve of a gown a woman has power that is as strong as a sword's. Isabel is made to marry a silk merchant which seems to be the cushier role but in reality is the less tasteful one, at least initially. Her husband's mother is less than welcoming and doesn't make the young Isabel feel as much like a member of the family as she does a silk worker. Isabel loves Thomas, and grieves when he dies. One of the tenderest moments in the book comes when Isabel bids Thomas a final farewell. I was deeply touched by the scene.
I admired both sisters because they took what was dealt to them and made the best of every opportunity. Jane learns how to run a household without sacrificing any of the gentler charms she was brought up to with, such a lute playing. She astounds even her closest confidante, Isabel, and takes charge when she is most needed. Isabel learns all she can, and makes better business decisions than a lot of present-day women do. They are strong and intelligent, and despite living in a world controlled by men they figure out how to use their assets to their own best interests.
FIGURES IN SILK is well written, and brings this period in time to life in a way that is both entertaining and educational. I look forward to reading more from this talented author.