Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Journey to 15th Century London--Vanora Bennett's "Figures in Silk"

Vanora Bennett's "Figures in Silk" follows the life of Isabel Claver, a young silk merchant in late 15th century London. Isabel's father, a famous silk trader, marries her off at age 14 to the son of the silk trader Alice Claver. Isabel is widowed within a year, but because of a chance encounter with a mysterious young man, she decides to stay with her mother in law to learn the silk business. Isabel becomes a brilliant silk trader in her own right, using the connections of her sister Jane Shore, who is mistress to King Edward, to rise to the top of her field. Isabel also re-encounters her mysterious man, only to discover he is Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Will Isabel and Richard end up happily ever after, or will the politics of the War of the Roses get in the way? 

I don't know a lot about this period in English history, but I thought "Figures in Silk" did a good job of capturing the atmosphere of late 15th century London. Yes there are some things in the novel that are a bit of a stretch--commoner sisters being mistresses to Kings for one--but I also thought there was a lot to like in this novel. Isabel is spirited and free minded, but like so many women, she can also be blinded by irrational love. She's very real, and it is interesting to see her balance her business interest and the role of a freed woman during this period in London. I found this book difficult to put down--I always wanted to know what was coming next--and it has made me interested in this period in English history. 

I would recommend this book to fans of Phillippa Gregory, because it has the same type of courtly intrigue and strong female characters as her books.

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