Figures in Silk
Using the point-of-view of a female silk merchant of London, Vanora Bennett, in Figures of Silk, gives readers a unique perspective of the final years of the Wars of the Roses.
After a brief but momentous meeting with a mysterious dark-haired man, young Isabel Lambert agrees to an arranged marriage into the house of Claver, a family of silk merchants. After she is widowed, Isabel becomes an apprentice to her mother-in-law in the hopes of supporting herself as a free woman. She learns quickly and is soon sharing the Clavers’ impossible dream of setting up a domestic silk weaving business. Fortunately, her golden-haired sister has begun a liaison with King Edward IV. Isabel takes advantage of the connection to ask for the king’s aid in the new business, which he gives willingly. When she by chance meets again the mysterious dark-haired man of her youth—Dickon—she is sure all of her dreams will come true. But Dickon is no common man: She soon discovers he is Richard of Gloucester, King Edward’s brother, and the man whose ruthlessness will plunge England into chaos one more time.
Ms. Bennett has penned a lovely portrayal of late-medieval London—in particular, the middle-class life of the merchants of the silk trade—with a sharp eye to how changes in leadership have an unsettling effect on all their lives. But Dickon’s early character is portrayed so radically differently from his later self—as Richard III—that the two portraits were difficult to reconcile. This is an unfortunate flaw in what is otherwise a well-researched, emotionally compelling, and sensuously written novel.