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Ruins of Lace

Ruins of Lace

3.5 24
by Iris Anthony

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Lace is a thing like hope.

It is beauty; it is grace.

It was never meant to destroy so many lives.

The mad passion for forbidden lace has infiltrated France, pulling soldier and courtier into its web. For those who want the best, Flemish lace is the only choice, an exquisite perfection of thread and air. For those who want something they don't have,


Lace is a thing like hope.

It is beauty; it is grace.

It was never meant to destroy so many lives.

The mad passion for forbidden lace has infiltrated France, pulling soldier and courtier into its web. For those who want the best, Flemish lace is the only choice, an exquisite perfection of thread and air. For those who want something they don't have, Flemish lace can buy almost anything-or anyone.

For Lisette, lace begins her downfall, and the only way to atone for her sins is to outwit the noble who know demands an impossible length of it. To fail means certain destruction. But for Katharina, lace is her salvation. It is who she is; it is what she does. If she cannot make this stunning tempest of threads, a dreaded fate awaits.

A taut, mesmerizing story, The Ruins of Lace explores the intricate tangle of fleeting beauty, mad obsession, and ephemeral hope.

"Stunning...this story is sure to impress."—Publishers Weekly

"A gorgeous wrought tale of two women bound to the cruelty and beauty of a forbidden perfection...Iris Anthony has delivered a stunning achievement."—C.W. Gortner, author of The Queen's Vow

"Exquisite...this is definitely a keeper to be savored. Whoever Iris Anthony is, she's a gifted writer with what is to be hoped is only the first of many wonderful stories to tell."—Sara Poole, author of Poison and The Borgias Mistress

For more information visit www.ruinsoflace.com

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this stunning debut from the pseudonymous Anthony, King Louis XIII’s ban on lace gives rise to a black market that weaves together the lives of four women in 17th-century France and Flanders. Katharina Martens is a Flemish lace maker who considers it her God-given duty to craft the “exquisite, beautiful” fabric, never mind that her work—often conducted without firelight or lanterns, in order to keep the lace clean of soot and ash—has left her hunched and nearly blind. As the end of her lace-making career draws nigh, to be followed by the sordid existence of former craftswomen relegated to a life of “doing... vile things,” her sister, Heilwich, struggles to save enough money to buy Katharina’s freedom from the abbey where she works. Meanwhile in France, Lissette Lefort and her cousin Alexandre must procure a length of forbidden lace to pay off the conniving count of Montreau, who threatens to reveal Lissette’s father’s role in an attempted assassination of the king. As beautifully fashioned as the sought-after lace, this story is sure to impress. Agent: Natasha Kern. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"This novel was a very refreshing piece of historical fiction. The topic, the black market for lace in 17th century France, is one that I have not seen around before and was eager to read about. Anthony did not let me down and I was treated to quite the entertaining read." - The Maidens Court Book Review

"The story of Ruins of Lace is a compelling story that shows how a simple weaving can value so much to people and the complex story of 6 people whose lives are all intertwined." - Crazy Red Pen

"The Ruins of Lace has opened up a whole new world of questions regarding this subject in itself. 17th c. Lace: forbidden, unattainable, priceless, beautiful and historical." - examiner.com

"The writing is beautiful." - Carabosse's Library

"A good read about an unusual subject, and interesting time period." - Readin and Dreamin

"The story itself was interesting and a lesson in history as well" - Book Sake

"That such frippery could produce such consequences is tragic and mesmerizing." - Cheryl's Book Nook

"I enjoyed it immensely" - Jenny Loves to Read

"Trust me; you will not look at lace the same ever again! Such a powerful novel that is highly complementary to its time." - Charming Chelsey's

"Overall, The Ruins of Lace is an intriguing historical novel with a toughness that might surprise, given its subject." - Portland Book Review

Library Journal
In her debut as Anthony (a pseudonym), this author of ten previous novels focuses on the craze for Flemish lace in 17th-century France. Intertwining the stories of a lace maker slowly going blind and the sister desperate to save her, a French border patrol agent, and even a dog, Anthony depicts the destruction that greed for the exquisite fabric wrought as well as the moral strength of those who understood the true harm caused by the delicate threads and circumvented the pitfalls of this treacherous industry. Anthony's writing is nothing short of fantastic, and the details she includes in this beautifully atmospheric novel will bring the settings and characters to life for readers. VERDICT Historical fiction fans tired of reading about kings and queens will greedily grab this book off the shelf.—Audrey M. Jones, Arlington, VA
Kirkus Reviews
In 17th-century France, Flemish lace is desired but illegal, so the smuggling business is alive and well. This debut historical novel from Anthony (the pen name of a Christian book author) tells the story of lace from multiple perspectives, including an abused dog trained to smuggle lace across the border. Treated little better than the dog is Katharina, a nun who has become bent and blind from her incessant lace-making. Her sister, Heilwich, hopes to buy her back from the abbey before Katharina's blindness is discovered and she is cast out onto the streets, very likely to earn a living by prostitution. Meanwhile, border guards are trained to hunt smugglers, and confiscated lace ends up gracing the sleeves of the aristocracy. One young girl, Lisette, becomes entranced by the lace cuffs of a visiting Count. Her curiosity, however, ruins not only the Count's lace cuffs, but also her family's fortunes, as he resorts to blackmail to gain vengeance. He wants, of course, not only more lace, but also a means to save his own fortune, since his father has threatened to disinherit him. Why disinherit him? Well, the Marquis has a newly pregnant wife, his first wife ruined the young Count by raising him initially as a girl, and the Count shows no inclination to produce an heir himself. Lisette's cousin Alexandre has also endured hard times. He and his leprous father were cast out by the village priest long ago, yet Lisette's father rescued him. He owes his life to Lisette's father, and he has given his heart to Lisette. So when she impulsively begs the Count to take her in place of the lace, and the Count spirits her away, Alexandre vows vengeance himself. Lurking behind is the master smuggler himself, De Grote. The many facets of the story of lace are intriguing, yet Anthony does not fully weave them together. There are simply too many threads. Sweeping, yes. Cohesive, no.

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Chapter 1

Katharina Martens

Lendelmolen, Flanders

It had been two months now. Two months since my eyes had betrayed me. The darkness had come upon me so gradually that there had been no fear, no panic. Even now I could still discern shapes and colors. Though the details and textures of my lace were lost to me, my fingers told me what my eyes refused to convey.

I had spun an endless pattern of roses and leaves intertwined, bordered by a path of scrollwork. Every day I had lingered between those blossoms and lost myself in the maze of those scrolls. Every day for over three years. It took time to fashion a lace as long and as fine as this one.

I wriggled my toes within my clogs. At least I thought I did. I could no longer feel them. They had gone numb from autumn's chill. I shifted on the bench, hoping it would bring some life back into them. If not, they would waken with a tingling in the time it took to walk from the workshop to the chapel. By the time I finished with prayers, they would be well again. In winter it was worse. They woke from their sleep with a hot, dull ache.





I had cycled through the years in much the same way I cycled through my bobbins and my pattern. One season, one set of bobbins, one rose after the other, and in the end, I found myself back at the beginning. As a child, cast upon the good graces of the abbey, I had been a fumbling novice at my craft. But now I was a skilled lace maker.

Lace is created from thread. Threads. Many of them. Twisted and crossed, looped and whorled, knotted and woven. But lace is formed from the absence of substance; it is imagined in the spaces between the threads. Lace is a thing like hope. It lived, it survived, and it was desired for what it was not. If faith, as the nuns said, was the substance of things hoped for, then lace was the outline-the suggestion-of things not seen.

Lace was my life. My solace. It was lace that gave my life meaning. And in the working out of my intricate patterns, I had also worked out my salvation. Twenty-five years I had been making lace. Twenty-five blessed years.


As I sat there with my pillow in my lap, the threads performed their intricate dance, leaping and jumping in a counterpoint about their pins. Each group of bobbins clattered to their own rhythm before I dropped them to the pillow to pick up the next. With a twist or a cross, more than two hundred threads danced around the circle before I dropped the last group and started once more with the first.

It amazed me, as it always had, that I should sit with my bobbins, day after day. And that they should perform their dance with so little help from me. Like the fairies my sister used to speak of, they completed their magic seemingly undirected and undeterred by human hands. Except, I did direct them. I did move them. In fact, they moved only at my command. But once I set them into motion, they seemed to dance alone. I used to watch, breathless, every day, waiting to see what they would create.

I knew, of course.

They would create the kind of lace they created every day, the lace that was named for the abbey: Lendelmolen. That was the only kind of lace we had been taught to make. We'd seen the other kinds. Sister had showed them to us so we could understand how superior our patterns were. But this lace, this length, was different. It was to be fabulously long. Six yards. The exquisite scrolls and roses and leaves had been inscribed by a pattern maker upon a parchment. Pins now marked that design, securing the pattern to my pillow.

But there was a difference between knowing what the bobbins would create and watching them go about their work. It was in the watching that the magic happened.

Of course, I never spoke of the magic. Not to the nuns.

Not to anyone.

Nowhere, at any time within the walls of the abbey, could I speak. Unless it was to God. And even then, we were to speak in whispers. God was a jealous god. He needed our hands. He needed our thoughts...and our voices. They were reserved, all of them, every part of us, for him.

And why should it have been any other way?

Except...I had never heard the voice of Mathild. And I had sat beside her as we worked, for twenty-five years.

Those first years, the years of learning, had been the most difficult. Learning what was expected of us and learning what was not. Learning how to please the Sister in charge of the workshop. Learning how to avoid a beating or a whipping.

And those first whippings...they came so unexpectedly, so brutally, for a sin no greater than a dropped pillow or a missed stitch. So viciously and so cruelly, a girl would be stripped to her waist and punished right in front of us. In front of all of us.

It served its purpose, I suppose.

It goaded us into concentration. But unavoidably, I too dropped my pillow. I too missed a stitch. And strayed from the pattern. I did not think often of those times. So much sadness, so much misery. I had sought the skirts of the Holy Mother herself on one occasion, hiding behind her statue in the chapel. Once I had been coaxed away from her, I was lucky to have survived the beating I was given. But it was then, in the midst of those dim-lit days and lonely nights, that I was taught how to make myself useful. It was then I learned the secrets of lace. And how could I truly despair when I knew, every day upon waking, that in the workshop my lace awaited?

I could survive a scolding, could suffer through a beating, always knowing I had my lace. I couldn't mind stinging buttocks or a bloodied back when my fingers were left untouched for work and my eyes could still see. It was the times when they rapped our knuckles that were the worst. For then we were left bleeding and bruised, forbidden to leave the workshop, but forbidden also to work. If punishment was doled out for failure-failure to concentrate, to keep the lace clean, to master the skills-the lace itself offered its own sort of reward.

To see it created.

To watch it unfurl.

To glimpse a pattern perfectly followed, perfectly accomplished.

I would rather have been whipped to the grave than been kept from my work.

But that had been back when I could see. Now that solitary pleasure had been denied me.


Perhaps in those early days, now that I think on it, I had heard Mathild speak once or twice. But I did not remember her words. To speak brought certain punishment. And so, we had avoided each other's gaze to avoid the temptation to talk. And soon we began, all of us, to sleep with an arm across the face...to ensure that, even in sleep, we would remain guiltless.

But I had seen Mathild smile.

And once, I had even seen her wink.

But speak? I could hardly remember those few words.

When would I have heard them? At prayers, we whispered our petitions to the Most Holy God. At meals, we ate. During washing, we washed. And when making lace? Making lace required everything we had. And by the time we collapsed onto our beds, there was nothing left within us. We were quickly consumed by sleep.

Of course, I had heard others talk.

The nuns spoke all the time.

I knew the voice of my teacher: Sister Maria-Clementia. She spoke very little, but when she bent over my pillow to inspect my lace, her "Well done" was like a song of a thousand words. And her "Rework this" could echo through my mind for days. There was no great need for words here. Not when so very few would do. And even when I talked to God, there was little to say. I said, "Thank you," for it was he who had placed me here. I said, "Help me, please," for who did not need help with such difficult work? But mostly, I said...nothing. For what could a poor girl say to such a great and holy God that did not begin and end with gratitude?

But...I had a secret.

I stored up words. I hoarded them, treasured them.

Words were my vice, my greatest weakness. Since I had discovered their great rarity, I remembered every one I heard.

They formed a pattern in my head, and in the spaces between them, I imagined the lives of their speakers. My one regret is how few of my mother's I remembered. But I could not have known, not while she was living, how precious few she would be able to give me.

She had talked often...so many lovely words. They came back to me sometimes in my sleep, like a length of punto in aria lace. Vast spaces of nothing, and then, suddenly, the outline of an intricate pattern. It was all the more beautiful for its spare design. Her words had the lightness of a butterfly. They were always dancing. Always followed by laughter. At least...that is how it seems to me now.

But perhaps I have distorted the pattern in transferring it to my memories. For what followed after her death was so...bleak. When she had been alive, there were words, nothing but words, in our house, and then after...silence reigned over all.

I remember only two words from my father. Perhaps he gave me more than those two...certainly he probably did while my mother was living.... but the only two I remember are the last ones he spoke to me.

Fare well.

Only those two words remain, and they are underscored by sorrow. They hang heavily in my heart. He died five years after I was committed to the abbey. Those two words are all I have left of him, but two words are not enough to make a pattern.

Fare well.

Was it a blessing? A wish? A hope?

Perhaps it was a sort of benediction. I do not know.

My sister, Heilwich...well, she has words enough for the both of us. And the words she gives me are more than enough to last the week between her visits. She speaks of her life, of the priest whose home she keeps, of her good works. Her pattern is torchon. Regular, repeating. Competent. Her design makes a sturdy lace. Not fancy, not frivolous. Respectable. Dependable.

And I imagine her life to be just that way.

But I have more than just family from whom to collect words.

I have the people walking by the workshop, past the abbey wall, on the street outside.

There is one man who walks the streets, shouting every day. He sells fish. And he does it especially loudly on Fridays. He shouts everything about them. How large they are, how fresh they are. He sells sole and plaice. Eels and herrings. Sometimes they cost more, and sometimes they cost less. And sometimes he sells something called a mussel. But only in the winter. I've always wondered what it looked like, a mussel.

But then, I had always wondered what he looked like as well.

His words were not fancy; they created an ordinary malines design. His pattern was the same, day after day, fish after fish. There were few holes, few gaps, from which to pattern a life apart from the street beyond the wall. I imagined he woke with fish and he worked with fish, and when he slept, he dreamt of fish.

It was what I did too...only with lace, of course. I understood a life like his. Except...How did he come by them? That great variety of fish? And how did he carry them? For certain by cart, for I could hear the wheels tumble across the cobbles. But...how? Tossed together in a great pile? Separated into baskets?

And where did he live?

What did he wear?

The holes in his pattern were tiny, but they were there, nonetheless. His was a life set upon a platform of a fine network of threads.

There was also a woman who shouted in the streets beyond the wall. But she didn't shout about something. She shouted at something. Was it a child? She shouted at someone called Pieter, who always seemed to be making a mess of things.

But what kind of mess was it?

Was he a child who rubbed his hands in the ashes of a fire...and then spread the soot about the house? That would make a mess. The worst kind of mess I could imagine.

She also shouted at someone else called Mies. And Mies always made her late.

But late to what? Where was she going, this woman who seemed to have nothing to do but walk the length of the streets, shouting all day? What was Mies doing to make her late, and how could Mies do whatever it was all day long, every day? And if it was always the same thing Mies did, then why did the woman not stop it from being done?

There was a pattern to this woman that made no sense, huge holes in the design of her life. Hers was a lace made of cutwork. Not dainty, not fragile. Without subtlety, it was bold in the extreme. A pattern without any elegance at all, and one which kept repeating. That lace was one of my least favorite kinds.

There were others out there on the street besides. I could hear them walking and running. And hear the sounds of their voices talking. But those people did not shout, and so I knew nothing of the actual words they said.

There were babies who cried.

And once, there had been a shriek. A howl.

The wordless sound of grief: black lace. The worst kind to make. The kind I made as a child, new to the abbey. After being dyed its dark color, it would not show soiling. We could make it imperfectly, for the color hid our sins. We made it fast, though never for commission. It was for immediate consumption. For who could know when a soul might die?

No one thought of black lace-no one wanted to think of it-but somehow, we never seemed to be able to make enough of it. But to make a lace no one ever wanted? Those days, those laces...they were sad. And so was that howl.

So at times, I suppose, one word...one wordless sound...could create a pattern. It could tell a story...but some laces are not worth imagining.

Far better, far better, to keep my thoughts to what I knew. And what I knew best, the only thing I knew at all, was lace. The abbey had been kind enough to take me as a child from my motherless family, even though I knew how to do nothing at all. They had fed me; they had taught me. They had allowed me a chance to redeem myself. To prove myself worthy of the life I had been given. And so I worked, I labored, as one who would not be ashamed. Nee: one who could not be ashamed. When God looked down on what it was I had done, I knew the only thing he could say was this: well done.

My eyes strained through the darkness, trying-and failing-to discern one thread from another. In a short time we would be allowed a candle, but for now, my fairy dance continued, unaided, unfettered, by my lack of sight. As we worked, we waited. Waited in anticipation, just as we waited in the chapel to receive the Host.

Soon, Sister placed a single candle on a table before us. And then she began positioning the condensers. Clear glass balls filled with water, they focused the candle's light and then sent it forth. Around the table she went, adjusting each one so it cast a narrow beam of light upon each pillow.

With much gratitude, we repositioned our work into that light.

When I could still see well, it had been more difficult to work after the shadows of night fell. The pillow had to be constantly adjusted to follow the flickering of the candle's light. Now, it didn't matter. I could work in darkness as if it were the brightest of noondays. I had memorized my pattern. But still, I had to concentrate.

Think too much, and I would muddle up the bobbins. Think too little, and I would lose my place in the pattern. In my head, I sung a little tune the sisters had chanted when I was a child. And quick as that, the dance regained its rhythm and its grace.

I sung it to myself over and over, again and again. Who knows how many times I sung it, until at last, Sister said the word: Done.

My prayers that night were wordless.

My supper, tasteless.

My sleep, dreamless.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"The writing is beautiful." - Carabosse's Library

"A good read about an unusual subject, and interesting time period." - Readin and Dreamin

"The story itself was interesting and a lesson in history as well" - Book Sake

"That such frippery could produce such consequences is tragic and mesmerizing." - Cheryl's Book Nook

"I enjoyed it immensely" - Jenny Loves to Read

"Trust me; you will not look at lace the same ever again! Such a powerful novel that is highly complementary to its time." - Charming Chelsey's

"Overall, The Ruins of Lace is an intriguing historical novel with a toughness that might surprise, given its subject." - Portland Book Review

Meet the Author

Iris Anthony is a pseudonym. The writer behind the name is an award-winning author of eleven novels. She lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area in a house decorated with French antiques and Flemish lace. Learn more about Iris at www.irisanthony.com

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Ruins of Lace 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had trouble putting this one down. I bought it on a whim and I was hooked within the first chapter. An excellent choice for anyone who enjoys historical fiction.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
From the very first page of the book I wanted to hunt down the nuns and burn them alive. They're hypocritical monsters who cower behind the facade of pious humility while all the while enslaving, brainwashing, and eventually destroying little girls for their own profit. I hope that they and others like them all rot in hell for what they have done--and if not, if they wheedled their way into heaven by smiling and lying and pretending to be decent Christian women--well then I apologize to God, but heaven is not a place where I would like to be. Not if I had to share it with those filthy beasts.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Even the author admits that this was a difficult novel to finish,Too many loose ends...reads as if she got bored herself and just needed to finish it off. Most disappointing and predictble ending.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read the entire book in one day, just couldn't stop. What a unique and different style, it kept me hooked from beginning to end .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
RtBBlog More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by JoAnne Book provided by NetGalley for review Review originally posted at Romancing the Book I have mixed feelings about this book. It’s a historical novel set in the 1600′s in France with the entire premise of the book about the smuggling of lace because the wearing of lace was banned by the French King. The book had many characters and points of view. We were given each person’s background and story as they were introduced. Each story was told in first person by the character whose story was being told in that chapter which was a little difficult to follow and each character was involved with lace in some way. I felt there wasn’t closure to any of the character’s stories. The descriptions of the French Countryside were vivid though and I felt like I could feel the mud, the anguish of the various characters, including the dog, the fear, the heartache and all too few times the happiness. I felt the book had an abrupt ending not only in several chapters but also at the end which I didn’t realize until I turned the last page in my e-reader.  Also, at the end of the book there were discussion questions, information about the author, a conversation with the author that was a series of questions and answers related to this book, acknowledgements, and the author’s notes about her interest in writing this story. All of this amounted to almost 20 pages which seemed excessive. I have not read books by this author before but would give another book a try to see if there was better closure and if she also wrote in the first person by various characters – a format that wasn’t an easy read. Favorite Quote:  “To be caught with lace is to be subject to a six-thousand-livres fine. And exile. And the confiscation of estates.” The count raised a finger. “Only if you are caught.” “But…I can’t…I don’t know…I don’t even know how much it would cost…” Father had gone pale as he spoke. “And I’ve already paid you so much…”
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Intriguing. Comples. Richly woven to create depth and cohesion. Highly recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was really intriguing and I couldn't put it down once I got into a few of the stories. Initially the stories seem disparate, but they all come together in the end in a way I would not have imagined. An excellent book, especially for fans of historical fiction.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Save your money - this book flipped from person to person in each chapter. The "lace" parts tied the persons together but this was a boring read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm hoping to see more books by Iris Anthony. The way she put this story together was different, and fun.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastic historical fiction
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J9mail More than 1 year ago
I really loved this book, very informative as I had not heard that lace was the cause of lives, human and animals. Well written, the author did her research. I highly recommend this book.
romeo_alpha More than 1 year ago
Lace was the root of all the problems. This is an exciting story.