Hello Humans! Welcome to another ‘episode’ of Judith reads outside her comfort zone. Today I’m reviewing upcoming historical fiction novel Blackberry and Wild Rose, not a genre I am completely unfamiliar with, but not one that I tend to read by choice. But, as I’ve said before, I like to push myself as a reader and sometimes it’s nice to do something a little bit different.
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.
Content warning: rape (within the first couple of chapters so do watch out).
I was keen to read this book because of the premise, I really like books that allow you to learn about an element of history, in this case, silk, through the lens of historical fiction. I knew nothing about the Spitalfields weavers or anything like that and I thought this would be a good way to learn. There are some really interesting details in this work such as the descriptions of how the silk-weaving would actually be done, or the anger felt at the introduction of cheaper fabrics such as Indian Calico. It isn’t something we really think about in our world of fast, disposable fashion, but it was such a huge issue at the time, making for a very interesting read.
I think, in part, I’m just not suited to stories such as these. I like a book where women work together and this felt far more like a book where women were pitted against one another. That’s obviously personal preference but it would have been nice to see Esther and Sara work together at intervals, just to break up the tension a little more.
I also think I’m a little bit done with books that have a historical basis (a lot of speculative fiction does the same thing) where pregnancy becomes the be-all and end-all of character development. Of course, it was an issue and a concern for women at that time, but it does sometimes start to feel quite predictable that as soon as things start to go well for a plucky heroine she winds up pregnant and everything goes to pot. I do think it’s handled quite well in this story, it makes sense as to character motivation and it is handled well within the plot, I just find that it feels a little predictable at this stage.
The aspects of the book that were about the history and the silk-weaving as opposed to the characters’ individual stories were my favourites. I enjoyed reading about how you created a pattern for silk and how that translated into the decorated fabric through the process of weaving. I personally would have liked a little more emphasis on that as opposed to the ‘oh no I am pregnant and or in a bad marriage’ but that’s just me.
I do often find, with these trips outside my comfort zone, that I enjoy reading the book but would prefer it is x or y were different. That is where I see my genre preferences coming through. If you’re someone who loves historical/women’s fiction then you may adore this, I can’t rightly say. Overall I would say that if you’re interested in the silk aspect of this book there is enough of it to keep you going, though I would quite happily read a more academic book on this topic.
My rating: 3/5 stars
I received a free digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
What say you? Is this on your TBR? Let me know in the comments below!