The Ruins of Lace

Written by Iris Anthony
Review by Jane Kessler

If you’ve ever admired handmade lace and wondered how it was made, you’ll be intrigued by this book. In 17th-century France, King Louis XIII banned lace, whether foreign or domestic. Human nature being what it is, this made lace that much more desirable, and it became a lucrative source of income for smugglers. Sadly, many of the young girls who made lace in convents were forced to work in deplorable conditions until they were physically worn out and their eyesight gone, at which point they were turned out on the street.

The story is told from alternating points of view, beginning with that of Katharina, a young lacemaker in Flanders, and her sister Heilwich, housekeeper to a priest. Heilwich is in a desperate race to earn the money needed to buy Katharina’s freedom from the convent before she can no longer make lace and they turn her out. For Lisette, a young woman of noble birth, lace becomes her downfall as her family loses everything when she ruins a piece of lace belonging to the vicious Count of Montreau. Then there is Denis, a hapless soldier who is constantly outwitted by lace smugglers who use hollow loaves of bread, coffins, and even dogs to smuggle lace into France. And interestingly, we even hear from one of the dogs used in the smuggling.

Anthony has written a fascinating story not only about lace, but about obsession, corruption, and self-worth. The ending is tantalizingly ambiguous.