BLACKBERRY AND WILD ROSE
GENRES/ SUBJECTS: Historical
WHEN Esther Thorel, the wife of a Huguenot silk-weaver, rescues Sara Kemp from a brothel she thinks she is doing God’s will. Sara is not convinced being a maid is better than being a whore, but the chance to escape her grasping ‘madam’ is too good to refuse.
Inside the Thorels’ tall house in Spitalfields, where the strange cadence of the looms fills the attic, the two women forge an uneasy relationship. The physical intimacies of washing and dressing belie the reality: Sara despises her mistress’s blindness to the hypocrisy of her household, while Esther is too wrapped up in her own secrets to see Sara as anything more than another charitable cause.
It is silk that has Esther so distracted. For years she has painted her own designs, dreaming that one day her husband will weave them into reality. When he laughs at her ambition, she strikes up a relationship with one of the journeyman weavers in her attic who teaches her to weave and unwittingly sets in motion events that will change the fate of the whole Thorel household.
Blackberry and Wild Rose is a really immersive historical novel set in late-eighteenth century London. I requested this arc because I knew nothing at all about Spitalfields’ Huguenot silk weavers, and it seemed an intriguing premise for a story.
This turned out to be perfect, as the world-building is one of the novel’s greatest strengths. To say that I learned a lot about the process of weaving silk and the society of the Huguenot’s in London sounds a little dry, but Velton really pulled it off. The world is so vivid and rich that learning a little more about the subject was just a little bonus which I barely registered while reading: I was so caught up in her beautiful writing. The only complaint I had from a technical standpoint is that the pacing was a little off in places. After the initial set-up in the opening chapters, I felt everything slowed down and the story plodded along for a chunk of the first half. Luckily, things really picked up around halfway through and the stakes really built up.
Something I found really interesting about the novel was that I wouldn’t say any of the characters — even Sara and Esther — were particularly likeable. But I actually thought this was the books greatest strength. The characters felt so real and complex. Both protagonists did have their likeable and redeeming moments — so you’re invested to keep reading — but they both do some pretty nasty and selfish things too. I really liked that they were both headstrong and determined, and that they had a sort of uneasy alliance. I was particularly interested in Esther’s journey (who is based on a real person) as she moves away from her life as a long-suffering wife in a lacklustre marriage to embrace her interest in silk design and explore her passions.
A strong historical based around a unique subject, with beautiful writing and strong, complex female characters.
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