Happy publication day to Sonia Velton, her historical fiction debut, Blackberry and Wild Rose publishes today.
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 unwittingly sets in motion events that will change the fate of the whole Thorel household and set the scene for a devastating day of reckoning between her and Sara.
THE PRICE OF a piece of silk may prove more than either is able to pay.
Blackberry and Wild Rose draws you in from the very first chapter, because the story starts right away. You meet one of the narrators, Sara, and she finds herself in quite an unfortunate, yet interesting to read about, predicament. You’ll find, very early on when you start reading this one, that you’ll fly through its pages; this is due to the fact that Velton, through her rich descriptions, has placed you in the heart of Spitalfields in the late 18thcentury. You become so immersed in the setting, the scenery, the lives of these silk weavers, and ‘the help’, you’ll find this a quick read, not because it has a fast pace, but because you’re so immersed in all that’s going on; the short chapters are an added bonus!
The narration alternates between Sara and Esther, with neither woman being particularly likeable, but both are interesting characters. They each find themselves caught up in situations that fast go awry, and you cannot help but become invested in the outcome. Such deceit, such sinister goings-on, and I’m not even talking about Mrs Swann’s brothel!
Mount the loom, and set up the treads, and then you need you someone to pull the lashes and draw the simples – okay, I have no idea what I’m talking about, but Velton does; she doesn’t take you deep into the art of silk weaving, but instead touches on the basics, where necessary to build the plot. But ask me what a ‘journeyman’ is and I’ll tell you! The important point here is that you need no knowledge of silk weaving, or it’s jargon to enjoy this novel, whether you understand the snippets or it goes right over your head, it makes no difference – it all works to build the atmosphere. It’s the lives of these characters that are at the heart of this novel, silk is their passion, reading about their skulduggery is ours!
Inspired by master silk designer, Anna Maria Garthwaite, Velton has written a novel sure to captivate readers whether you’ve heard the name Garthwaite or not. It’s atmospheric, immersive, and very well written – one of my favourite lines:
“I felt her words like physical violence”
Old Spitalfields Market still stands today, well-known for its craft and fashion stalls, you can visit and see how it is now; read Blackberry and Wild Rose and let Velton take you back to how it was then! Quick mention about the ending – I loved it! A recommended read for fans of historical fiction, and, wow, what a stunning book cover!