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.
What I Thought:
Firstly, how gorgeous is the title and the cover of this book? It’s so sumptuous I just had to get myself a copy. I’d just read another historical book and was in the mood for more, and this one is a lovely read.
Narrated by two women in turn, Sara and Esther, Blackberry and Wild Rose is set in Spitalfields Market, London in 1768. Sara, newly arrived in London, finds herself forced into prostitution and is eventually rescued by Esther, a pious wife of master silk trader. A slow burner, the book gets into its stride once Sara arrives at Esther’s house to work as a maid. From there on there is secret love and betrayal on both sides.
While there is much to like and admire about this novel, I did find the characters and the plot a little underdeveloped. While I initially liked Sara for her ability to stand up for herself and not be a victim, she quickly plummeted in my estimation as I couldn’t fathom some of the reasons for doing what she did (several times). I never really got to know and understand her motivations so I had nothing I could empathise with. I believe that the book would have been better focused more on Esther and her struggles as a woman to have her art and creativity taken seriously. That alone could have made a great book, but as it was Esther also appeared to have few redeeming qualities.
I enjoyed this book (and believe, me I am not shy of abandoning books at any stage if I get bored) and I’m glad I read it. Being completely honest, it needed more spit and polish for my tastes but as a debut author, Sonia Velton is one to watch and I will certainly read more of her books in the future.
Have you read this book? What did you think?