Blackberry and Wild Rose by Sonia Velton is a story that captured my heart.
For fans of Jessie Burton and Tracy Chevalier, a rich historical debut set among the Huguenot silk weavers of Spitalfields in the late 18th century.
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 is published by Quercus (10th January 2019) and is available to purchase in digital, hardcover and audiobook formats. Paperback publishes 3rd October 2019.
I enjoyed experiencing life in Spitalfields in the 1760’s through the eyes of Sara and Esther as they narrate in turn.
Sara is sent away from her mother to London and is spotted by the eagle-eyed Mrs Swann the moment she steps down from the coach. The Wig and Feathers becomes her whole existence. When Esther gives her a Bible, things are going well for her and it lays gathering dust. Until something happens that makes Sara seek her out.
Sara believes that working as Esther’s maid represents a clean slate and earning an honest wage will earn back her reputation whilst Esther believes she will gain kudos from the Huguenot community. I became very involved in the complex relationship that develops between them, emotionally invested in them both.
Sonia Velton’s writing drew me in, making it so easy to visualise and be a part of this story. I was interested in the historical aspect and enjoyed not only finding out about the judicial processes of the time but also the creative process of designing for the loom and how silk is weaved.
Set during the time that rebellions are breaking out in reaction to silk being smuggled from France, betrayals and frustration cause so much tension in the Thorel household and amongst Elias Thorel’s weavers. I was sat on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen. And wow, what a crisis! I didn’t think I could detest characters as much as I did Elias and John Barnstaple. They brought out so much vitriol in me! I couldn’t see any redemption for either of them and can only hope that something foul befalls the pair of them (yes, they were so real to me that I could imagine them still after that last page was read).
Despite the sorrow and destruction there is also redemption. And after I had finished reading I thought how ironic for Sara …
Blackberry and Wild Rose is a debut you don’t want to miss. Highly recommended.
Connect with Sonia Velton
Read all posts in the historical fiction genre on Jera’s Jamboree.