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This is a review of the novel, Figures in Silk, by Vanora Bennett. This is the fourth book of hers that I have read, and I have enjoyed all of them. From reading the foreword, the book was nothing like I had imagined it would be.
The book starts in the reign of Edward IV in the Spring of 1471. The story focuses on Isabel Lambert, the daughter of a successful silk weaver. Isabel and her sister Jane are both married on the same day with the matches being arranged by their father. However an unexpected guest arrives at the wedding celebrations and their lives are set to change forever.
At the start of the book, the country is just settling down after the turmoil of Edward IV claiming the throne from the 'mad' Henry VI. After the sudden death of Edward at the age of only 40 the book gives us a different side of what happened and how we ended up with Richard III on the throne rather than the young Edward V. This isn't another book with a different look at who killed the Princes in the tower, although they are mentioned several times. I enjoyed reading about Richard III as the strapping young man he was meant to have been, rather than the image portrayed of him in later years. At times in this book I felt sorry for him, but other times you could see the ruthlessness of his character which would stop at nothing to get where he wanted to be.
I found Isabel, the main character, very likeable in the whole. She starts off as a young woman having to do as her father wishes and marry against her will. She makes the best of the situation and soon becomes her own boss and with the help of the King starts the first weaving business in London with looms imported from Venice, but at the same time falls in love, and shows her vulnerable side when she gets lovesick! Her sister comes across as more of a vain and selfish young woman, but also shows a softer and more caring side at times.
The book gives colouful descriptions of London in the fifteenth century. The details of the silk trade in London and across Europe is insightful and although there is a fair amount of description about how silk is made which some may find boring, I felt that it added to the novel and gives the reader a greater understanding of the trade at the time. I also enjoyed reading about the successful business set up by a woman, which is very unusual in a male dominated era.
I found the story drew me in, and even knowing what would happen (Edward IV dying etc) I still found myself willing it to turn out differently, and for Richard III to remain as the Dickon he is at the start of the book when he first meets Isabel. It was also interesting reading about the life at court with the glitz, glamour and jealousy and then the life of the apprentices and the hard work they have to do in the same book.
All in all a good read - I am giving 4 stars. I would recommend, but it's not my favourite of hers.
Hardback version, published 2008, 464 pages, available on Amazon for £1.20 new, plus £2.80 delivery or used for £0.01 plus the same delivery charge.