What’s it all about?:
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 did I think?:
First of all, a huge thank you to Ella Patel for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and to Quercus Books for providing a complimentary copy of the novel on a recent Word-Of-Mouth Bestsellers Evening/bloggers event which showcased some of the books they were excited about for 2019. I was lucky enough to meet the author herself and her editor at the event and they made Blackberry and Wild Rose come alive in my imagination before I had the good fortune to read it leaving me in no doubt at all that this book HAD to make my January TBR. Now I’ve read it, I can see why Quercus were excited. This gorgeous, sumptuous novel is abundant in historical detail and provides a fascinating insight into the work and politics of Huguenot silk merchants in the late eighteenth century.
Sonia Velton, author of the debut novel Blackberry And Wild Rose.
Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres to devour and I always believe, must be the most difficult but rewarding niches to write within. The amount of research that has to go into your chosen time period/setting must be astronomical because at the end of the day, the reader has to feel transported to that particular place. It has to be evocative, believable and encapsulating and certainly with the historical fiction I read, I like to be able to visualise everything I’m reading about so succinctly. In Blackberry And Wild Rose, it is obvious that Sonia Velton knows her topic inside out and upside down. More importantly, she is able to produce a compelling, rich narrative that immediately captures the readers attention with some glorious, authentic characterisation that puts you immediately within the grimy, vivid and impoverished heart of eighteenth century London.
Spitalfields woven silk court dress from the 18th century.
Image from: https://www.museumoflondonprints.com/image/138334/spitalfields-woven-silk-court-dress-18th-century
Blackberry And Wild Rose is a beautiful story of two very different women, the wife of a Huguenot master silk weaver, Esther Thorel and a young woman, Sara Kemp who has been working as a prostitute since she arrived in London. Esther “rescues” Sara from the brothel and the demanding madam she is working under and sets her to work in her home as a maid, believing she is doing a good, Christian deed. Before long, we start to realise that there is a lot more bubbling under the surface for both women that will have drastic implications for the rest of their lives. I loved that nothing about either of the characters that Velton creates is black or white, good or bad. We get a unique impression of each woman along with their thoughts, feelings and potential motives for their actions. Additionally, as we get to know them a bit better, we realise that each woman has their own particular flaws that make them imperfect but, provide them with an increased resilience. They are then able to battle through their problems and focus on making a better life for themselves with minimal damage to their dignity and characters.
Set against the backdrop of the seedier side of London at this time period, I loved how this novel was a story of two halves. That is, the rich Huguenot wife who seemingly, never wants for everything and the “down on her luck” young woman who resorts to selling her body just to be able to survive. The clash of two such different women with the realisation that in fact, they’re more similar than they realise was fascinating to read and with the addition of the silk-weaving politics at the time, made for a hugely enjoyable reading experience. Sonia Velton writes with such beauty and elegance that I was delighted by this novel and certainly made a little note to myself to seek out whatever she writes in the future.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
Sonia Velton has been a solicitor in Hong Kong, a Robert Schuman Scholar in Luxembourg and spent eight years being a full-time Mum of three in Dubai. She now lives in Kent. Her first novel, BLACKBERRY AND WILD ROSE, tells the story of a fictional household of master silk weavers living in eighteenth century Spitalfields. The protagonist is loosely inspired by Anna Maria Garthwaite who was the foremost silk designer of the mid-eighteenth century and the title takes its name from an actual silk design. The novel was shortlisted as a work in progress for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize 2015 and longlisted for the Myslexia Novel Competition.
Find Sonia on her Goodreads page at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17154363.Sonia_Velton
or on Twitter at: @soniavelton
Thank you so much once again to Ella Patel and Quercus Books for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. Blackberry And Wild Rose is published on 10th January 2019 and will be available as a hardback and a digital e-book. If you fancy more information don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour for some amazing reviews!
Link to Blackberry And Wild Rose on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36222190-blackberry-and-wild-rose?ac=1&from_search=true
Link to Blackberry And Wild Rose on Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Blackberry-Wild-Rose-Sonia-Velton/dp/178747075X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1546941572&sr=8-1&keywords=blackberry+and+wild+rose