The Blue

Written by Nancy Bilyeau (author)
Review by Ilysa Magnus

Genevieve Planché, granddaughter of French Huguenots, desperately wants to escape her stifling existence in Spitalfields to be a “history painter” in the fashion of Reynolds and Hogarth. In 18th-century England, however, the likelihood of that eventuality is virtually nil because she is a woman. Perhaps in Venice?

When Genevieve meets Sir Gabriel Courtenay, he makes her an offer that she can’t refuse: in trade for Courtenay’s underwriting of her escape from England, she must go undercover to learn how a new color blue is being developed for use on porcelain. As mundane as that may sound, the reality is that, in a world where Sèvres porcelain rules and Derby porcelain is vying for that ethereal color blue, nothing is taken for granted, particularly when France and England are at war.

As distasteful as it is for Genevieve to spy, she is quite successful. Her work as an artist at the Derby Porcelain Works is also admirable. Yet she recognizes her mission as a means to an end and quickly locates chemist Thomas Sturbridge—but he is not merely brilliant at color creation. At a chance encounter, Genevieve and Thomas immediately find a physical chemistry that evolves into much more.

Bilyeau takes us on a rollercoaster ride through the history of porcelain making and through the world of 18th-century French and British espionage. On that ride, we meet Madame Pompadour at Versailles, walk the halls of the British Museum, and stroll the streets of 18th-century London. On that journey, too, Bilyeau introduces us to a memorable cast: Genevieve, who is faced with seemingly impossible choices which test her resolve and her faith; slick and despicable Courtenay; Sturbridge, clever, funny and always with something up his sleeve. Bilyeau’s research is impeccable, taking what might have been a dreary industrial novel and making it into a living, breathing drama. Kudos and highly recommended!