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Figures in Silk
A Novel

by Vanora Bennett

     

Silk was precious stuff.  The cloth of kings, it gave the wearer the prestige so many coveted.  In the years after the Wars of the Roses, fortunes were waiting to be made.  England, like the rest of Europe, lusted for silk and the houses of silk struggled to make money while under the heel of the Italians, who were the only ones in Western Europe with the permission to weave the costly stuff.

Isabel and Jane Lambert are the daughters of an English silk merchant, John Lambert, down on his luck.  Looking to rise back to his former position in the silk guild, he barters away his daughters.  Jane is given to Thomas Shore, who is a well-established businessman, and Isabel to Thomas Claver, who is the son and heir to a rival silk house.  It is at the mutual wedding dinner of the girls that Jane Shore meets King Edward IV.

Jane soon becomes the mistress of the king, who refers to her as 'the merriest harlot in England.'  Isabel becomes a widow and inherits a place in her mother-in-law’s silk house.  Isabel becomes a skilled merchant, and using her connection to the king due to her sister, she earns the right to weave silk in England.

King Edward IV dies and leaves Jane and Isabel without a patron. Isabel’s life becomes even more complicated when an old love returns and draws her into the schemes of a family fighting for a crown.

This book is a wonderful addition to the historical fiction that looks into the short and dangerous reign of Richard III.  He is one of the most vilified English kings, a man who murdered his nephews, declared his brothers and their children illegitimate, and possibly poisoned his Queen.  However, other historians say he was one of the most enlightened kings, who brought peace to his lands in the North, established the rights of the poor in the courts of law, and was not guilty of the murders he was accused of committing.

The Richard of this book is somewhere in-between.  When he meets Isabel and even later when she becomes his mistress, he is a quiet, seemingly gentle man who loves and serves his brother, Edward IV.  However, without explanation to the reader, he turns into a bloodthirsty, greedy would-be king.  It is here the author missed the chance to show the gradual evolution of Richard into the character he is by the end of the book.

The historical facts behind the story are well-researched.  The book recreates the sights and smells of London and weaves in the facts of the silk business without boring the reader.  The character of Jane is rather shadowy, important but rather unknown since her thoughts and feelings are not much discussed.  Yet, it is a delightful book and a good read, giving the reader love, tragedy, and treachery in swift turns.

The Book

Harper Collins Publishers
March 24, 2009
Hardcover
978-0-06-168984-0
Historical Fiction / England in the 1470s
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Excerpt
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The Reviewer

Emily Decobert
Reviewed 2009
NOTE: Reviewer Emily Decobert is the author of Continuing on Alone.
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