Originally published: 10 January 2019
Author: Sonia Velton
Published by: Quercus Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 416 pages
Reading dates: 22-28 December 2018
Set in the world of the Spitalfields silk weavers in London 1768, Sara Kemp arrives in London from her country home for work but is soon enticed by a madam to enter the world of prostitution. Ester Thorel, a wife of a Huguenot silk weaver rescues Sara from the brothel, thinking she is doing God’s will. Sara is not convinced being a ladies maid is better than being a whore, but the chance to escape her “madam” is too good to refuse.
Ester’s husband Elias, a well known and respected master weaver of silk is a wealthy businessmen who employs the pattern designers and journeyman weavers to produce silk. He offers a journeyman weaver, Bisby Lambert the chance to become a master weaver himself by letting him into his home to weave his own masterpiece. Esther herself is a talented artist and wishes to see one of her designs transferred to silk – her husband is dismissive of her ability so she approaches Lambert who guides her and offers to help her weave her drawing which she names Blackberry and Wild Rose onto silk, unknown to her husband.
I just loved this historical debut! The story is told in very short chapters, from the point of view of the two women who both very much have their own agendas. Sara wants to find a way to better herself and isn’t remotely loyal to her mistress. She soon starts a relationship with a journeyman weaver and is always looking for ways of undermining her mistress to suit her own ends. Esther is a good Christian woman but is wrapped up in her own secrets and is unable to see Sara as anything more than a charitable cause. Neither woman is very likeable for most of the book but my the end I felt I understood them well.
Based loosely on the story of master silk designer Anna Maria Garthwaite, whose work can be seen in the V&A museum and has been used in the design of the novel’s cover art which is stunning! This is a rich and atmospheric book, perfect for fans of The Miniaturist. I can’t help but admire the amount of time and research that must go into writing a book like this. I love historical fiction and this isn’t a period I am familiar with so the whole experience was a complete joy!
Many thanks to Ella at Quercus Books for sending me an ARC and for inviting me on the blog tour. Be sure to checkout the other stops below…
About the author:
Sonia Velton has been a solicitor in Hong Kong, a Robert Schuman Scholar in Luxembourg and spent eight years being a full-time Mum of three in Dubai. She now lives in Kent. Her first novel, BLACKBERRY AND WILD ROSE was shortlisted as a work in progress for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize 2015 and longlisted for the Myslexia Novel Competition.