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Figures in Silk by Vanora Bennett
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Figures in Silk (2009)

by Vanora Bennett

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3 stars. The premise was good and it was a different sort of perspective on the personality of Richard III. The author focuses on the silk industry and in particular, the attempt to begin manufacturing in England, an industry controlled by the Venetians. Two sisters, Jane Shore and Isabel Claver, approach life in very different ways. Jane becomes mistress to King Edward and lives on the bounty of others. Isabel's husband dies shortly after the marriage but she stays with her mother-in-law as her apprentice to learn the business. She also finds herself having an affair with the King's brother, Dickon. Although a good premise, the flow was choppy and I never got invested in any of the characters. I also thought the abrupt change in Richard's personality towards the end was unnatural. ( )
  Oodles | Feb 16, 2016 |
Cloth of silk hiding freise...

I recommend Bennett's "Figures in Silk" to those who enjoy historical fiction set in 15th century England and the Wars of the Roses. Bennett introduces the reader to Isabel Lambert, the sister of the infamous 'merry mistress' of Edward IV, Jane Shore. Isabel is the younger daughter of silk merchant John Lambert and by accident she encounters a dark, mysterious young man in a tavern in April of 1471 who encourages her to make her own way in the world. Smitten by the man and taking his advice, Isabel agrees to the marriage her father has arranged with a silkwoman's son, and soon becomes a widow and a merchant with her mother-in-law. They go into a business unheard of at the time, and succeed after a few roadblocks. In the background is the mysterious young man, Richard, duke of Gloucester and later, Richard III. Some Ricardians may not like the portrait Bennett paints of this infamous king. Bennett uses the gossip and conjecture of the time to paint a less than sympathetic picture. Nothing is revealed, but there is room for doubt in Isabel's mind as to her lover's motives throughout the story. I also like the less-than-saintly portrayal of Elizabeth of York, so often shown as a passive Yorkist martyr. Here, Elizabeth raises a few eyebrows - can we say conniving teenaged girl?

As to craft, the story is well told and thoroughly enjoyable. I absolutely loved the detail of the silk industry and the life of the mercers, the vignettes of the merchant class life in London. I also liked how the famous events of the Wars of the Roses are sketched in but take a back seat to the lives of ordinary people. As for the technical issues, once again Spellcheck probably was the villain here, but there were a few continuity problems, i.e., Isabel and Anne are supposedly walking to Westminster from London, and yet Isabel gives her reins to a servant. There is a list of people attending the King's statement at Clerkenwell, rather, the occupation. It was a bit annoying.

This is a book, like Jarman's "We Speak No Treason" and Penman's many titles, that I will most likely read again. I invite you to read it and discover these figures in silk.

( )
  ELEkstrom | Jun 6, 2013 |
I have to say of all the war of the roses books this is going to be one of my favorites. While it does focus on the royals in some respects the main focus is the story of trying to get the silk weaving business brought to England. You learn all the ins and outs of the mercers guild and many others within England at the time. Isabel Lambert a fictional created sister to the infamous Jane Lambert, better known as Jane Shore Mistress to King Edward is the center piece in all of this silk world.

Isabel after meeting with a mysterious stranger (who I guessed right on the first meeting) goes on to marry the Son of the wealthiest independent silkwomen in London Alice Claver. After the death of her Husband not very long after they were married Isabel is stuck with a question of what to do. She ends up becoming the apprentice of her Mother in Law. We follow these industrious women for a very long road of over 10 years as they have ups and downs and work towards a dream of not having to import woven silk from the various ports of the world. I loved learning about the silk world and following them along the path. The back story with the royal family fit as well because the merchants could not act without the royals and the royals often wanted loans from the merchants. It certainly is an interesting fiction and would I very much recommend. ( )
  LadyAmbrosia | Apr 18, 2013 |
I have been reading this book at night in bed. Let me rephrase. I have been reading this book at night in bed for a really long time. I fall asleep after a few pages. This is the first book of Vanora Bennett's I have read. Are they all this snooze inducing? Parts are interesting but I guess not enough to make it be a page turning, stay up all night, can't wait to find out kind of book. ( )
  alwaysbooktime | Mar 31, 2013 |
I have been reading this book at night in bed. Let me rephrase. I have been reading this book at night in bed for a really long time. I fall asleep after a few pages. This is the first book of Vanora Bennett's I have read. Are they all this snooze inducing? Parts are interesting but I guess not enough to make it be a page turning, stay up all night, can't wait to find out kind of book. ( )
  alwaysbooktime | Mar 31, 2013 |
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For Luke and Joe
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Outside the gates of London,the victorious army of King Edward IV and his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, is camped, waiting to make a triumphal procession into the capital tomorrow.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description from HarperCollins:

As the Wars of the Roses draw slowly to a close, England is a place of turmoil. Edward IV is on the throne but his position is unstable and he finds himself challenged by a man who would become Henry VII.

But one woman, a silkweaver to the court and mistress to Richard III, can cut through the turmoil with her clever ways and her pretty smile. Her sister is mistress to Edward IV. Could they hold the keys to power?

And London is turned constantly on its head, with business never sure where to turn, where the favours lie, who is in power from one moment to the next. Vanora Bennett brings to life a time of passions and politics, a time of turmoil and tension, a world in flux and a country up for grabs.
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In 1471 England, two daughters of a silk merchant follow different paths. Jane Shore becomes the mistress of the king and her sister Isabel becomes powerful in the silk industry.

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