Figures in Silk

Figures in Silk

by Vanora Bennett


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Figures in Silk by Vanora Bennett

In 1471, merchant John Lambert marries off his two beautiful daughters. The elder, Jane Shore, soon begins a notorious liaison with King Edward IV. The other sister, industrious and clever Isabel, is wed to the scion of a wealthy silk dynasty—and faces a monumental challenge when her husband is killed. Forced into apprenticeship to her mother-in-law, Alice Claver, Isabel learns to love the exotic fabrics from Italy, Persia, Spain, Tunisia, and beyond, discovering both loyal friends and dangerous enemies in this breathtaking new world. But Isabel's most powerful alliance will be with sister Jane's royal lover. And when the political landscape shifts perilously, one sister will fall while the other rises—as dire choices are made that will change their lives forever.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061689857
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/02/2010
Pages: 475
Sales rank: 558,070
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Vanora Bennett is the author of two acclaimed novels, Portrait of an Unknown Woman and Figures in Silk, and an award-winning journalist. She has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, the Times Literary Supplement, The Times (London), and the BBC. She lives in North London with her husband and two children.

Read an Excerpt

Figures in Silk

Chapter One

Spring 1471

Outside the gates of London, the victorious army of King Edward IV and his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, is camped, waiting to make a triumphal procession into the capital tomorrow. It is nearly a year since the popular Edward, king of England for a decade, was forced to flee his country, as a result of a plot to put his old rival for power, the former Henry VI, back on the throne. The plot has come to nothing. Pitiful, mad Henry VI is a prisoner in the Tower of London again, and will soon be dead. King Edward, handsomer and more golden than ever, is down the river at Westminster Palace for the night, being re-united with his wife, who's spent the past winter in sanctuary. He's taking a first look at the baby son born to her during his absence...his heir, the future King Edward V. Meanwhile, the relieved citizens of London, making preparations to welcome the returning king and his family, are hoping they've lived through the last convulsion of the fighting between the royal houses of York and Lancaster that we know today as the Wars of the Roses.

Isabel knelt with a rustle of tan silk. She didn't know the church, but she was aware of shadowy people moving round, or kneeling in corners. Not many, though. It was too late for Sext and too early for None. Most people would be out working. She put her hands up to her face, palmer fashion, staring down at the long, undecorated fingers in front of her eyes, shutting everything else out until even her eye's memory of the candle halos in front of her had faded. Her father couldn't really mean to marry her to Thomas Claver, could he?

Her lips began to formthe Latin words of prayer. She tried to ignore the picture in her mind, of Thomas Claver's thighs spreading on a window bench at the Tumbling Bear, and his mouth forming that slack, leering grin as he and her uncle both lifted their tankards to an embarrassed serving girl (trying to ignore them, as all servants did) and nudged each other obscenely. She shivered, but perhaps that was just because the prayer that had come to her mind was so somber. "O most sweet lord Jesus Christ, true God," she muttered, fixing her eyes on the calluses and needle pricks on her fingers, "who was sent from the bosom of the almighty Father into the world to forgive sins, to comfort afflicted sinners, ransom captives, set free those in prison, bring together those who are scattered, lead travelers back to their native land, minister to the contrite in heart, comfort the sad, and to console those in grief and distress, deign to release me from the affliction, temptation, grief, sickness, need and danger in which I stand, and give me counsel."

But however hard she concentrated on her fingertips and the movements of her mouth, she couldn't retreat into the muzz of incense and contemplation she was seeking.

Wisps of voices came unbidden into her head. Her father's: "an honor for the family . . ." and ". . . .mportant for the family to have Alice Claver's goodwill . . ." and ". . . .n excellent businesswoman; she's well connected, you know; she'll introduce you to people who can help you in life . . ." and ". . . .t's not what you know, it's who you know . . ." and ". . . .'m relying on you to do the right thing for the family." Her nurse's hurried, worried whispering, trying to make peace: "at your age you think it's all about love . . .?but all men are the same really . . .?I know he's a bit wild now, but you'll set him right in no time, get him working . . .?the important thing is to be in a good family; once you have babies you'll understand that children are all that matter in life anyway." Her sister, Jane, giggling under the bedclothes, somehow managing to be philosophical even in this misery: "Well, at least you know he likes girls. What am I going to do with that old stick Will Shore and his all-night ledgers? Just imagine trying to kiss him!"

It wasn't half so bad for Jane, Isabel thought furiously, trying to fight back the hot prickle behind her eyelids as she remembered her elder sister's bewitching face, all pale blond hair and flirtatiously downturned green eyes and charm, breaking into that rueful smile at the idea of having to marry Will Shore. Will might be a walking cadaver with no chin and no conversation except for what was on his books, but at least he was a man set on his path in the world. He was a freeman and a citizen; he had an honorable apprenticeship behind him and a business already set up. He'd bore Jane to death, but he'd keep her in the silken idleness she liked so much too, lolling on cushions and reading romances and planning her next gown. And she knew it. What did she have to complain about?

Isabel's shoulders heaved. The lump in her chest swelled to bursting, and, she found herself holding her head in her hands, squeezing helplessly at her closed eyes to stop the tears coming out, with her fingers salty and wet and her breath as fast and anguished as if she were running for her life.

A shadow moved nearby. Footsteps stopped a few paces away. She heard the faint click of spurs. She didn't care anymore. Now that she'd abandoned herself to the helplessness of her emotions, she couldn't have stopped the storm inside herself even if she'd wanted to. The footsteps moved away. But not far enough to forget them. A new candle flame blazed around the Virgin, enough to still Isabel's heaving chest for a moment. She fell silent, aware of the tears still coming through her fingers and the smeary mess her face must be, trying to breathe deep to control her sobs, rubbing at her skin to try to dry it off, waiting for the unwanted fellow worshipper to go away.

Figures in Silk. Copyright © by Vanora Bennett. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Figures in Silk 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 118 reviews.
Albionfaire More than 1 year ago
As a reader with an interest in all things regarding Richard III and as an embroiderer myself, I was curious to see how successful this particular venture in Ricardian fiction would be. The primary character, Isabel, and her sister Jane are truly fascinating and the author has put flesh and bones on them. Isabel is understandable and likable. The premise, the establishment of a productive silk industry in England in the 1400's, even though that didn't happen until the 1600's and even then only with marginal success, is well constructed and believable. The sidebar characters, such as Will Caxton, add depth to the tale. The writing is excellent, with one annoying exception...the relationship between Isabel and the Duke of Gloucester. The more intimate conversations between them are awkward and stilted; they disrupt the flow of the story, though Isabel's thoughts about the relationship do work. And even though the author does not attribute all of Richard's supposed crimes to her character, she introduces doubts about him which are questionable historically if one has really read a great deal of material on Richard III. That being said, I would still have to recommend the book for its own merits, that being the well-written story of a competent professional woman in an age when women had few choices other than marriage.
CLSR More than 1 year ago
I have read most of the historical novels about the Royals, so many of the characters already have a place in nmy mind. This story has a tale of the rich, the poor and the powerful from a new and intrigueing angle. I loved it and so will you.
Flounce More than 1 year ago
Although not the best written book of historical fiction I've read the plot is quite interesting. It follows the life of a London silkwoman during the last years of England's War of the Roses and tells the story of her years long affair with a man who was not only reviled in his own day but through Shakepeare's storytelling has become history's most deformed and depraved monarch. Not rich in description of place - you don't smell the markets or feel the cavernous halls of Westminster - you do come to understand the cloth business of London and its relationship to Italy as well as the characters and their motivations. As the story unfolds, you come to understand the choices made by Isabel, the main character, as she defies the expectations of her family and winds up with a most unlikely lover. I enjoyed the way the author mixes the history of the mercantile class with that of the monarchy as both struggle to establish themselves in 15th century London. Word of caution - that depraved king I spoke of earlier? Well, he's not so depraved after all...
rachie05 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to someone else. It touched on early women in business, as well as forbidden love. There was some suspense as well as drama.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I've ever read. At first I wasn't sure, in the beginning I was afraid it was going to more about silk and silk making than I wanted to know, but it wasn't. This was a fantastic book, very original - I didn't want to put it down and I didn't want it to end. I hope this author will hurry and write more books.
Danielle084 More than 1 year ago
This was an amazing book. It pulled me in right away and I couldn't put it down. Vanora has an amazing way of writing and I can't wait to see what she writes next.
harstan More than 1 year ago
The House of York English King Edward IV is out of money so must find new sources to replenish the treasury. Though young to be a monarch, the Plantagenet ruler knows the only group with cash is the affluent merchant class who control power based on their manipulating the rivalry for the monarchy between the Houses of York and the Lancaster. In 1471 wealthy silk merchant John Lambert suffers an economic setback, which forces him to marry his two daughters to rich spouses rather quickly. However, his offspring do not quite see life as dire as he currently does. His older daughter Jane starts a heated scandalous affair with the young monarch; eventually becoming his mistress. Thus he turns to his other child Isabel who he pressures into marrying obese silk merchant Thomas Claver. As Isabel struggles with the horrific thought of marriage to odious Claver, a stranger provides her comfort in a church. Even after doing her duty, Isabel has not forgotten the unknown person who was kind to her. When Claver dies, the stranger returns, but he is not quite the Good Samaritan the widow thought he was. Though the romances of the siblings are critical to the story line, the key to this deep fifteenth century tale is the power struggles between the aristocracy and the rising merchant class. Jane rises in influence through her being the king's mistress while Isabel's rise to power is through her knowledge of silk-weaving and global trade as she leads an effort to supplant Venice as the silk trade center. Together John's offspring appear to be the most influential figures in England as they "control" the king and the silk. Fans will relish this powerful historical as real persona embellish the look at an early globalization era with internal partisan strife that sounds so twenty-first century as history in general terms repeats itself. Harriet Klausner
Morris19 More than 1 year ago
I found the story historically interesting, lots of colorful characters, romance in the kings court and bed...good read!
MotherNatureKG More than 1 year ago
The book dragged and to be honest it became a chore to wade through it. If you want to know everything, and I mean everything, about the silk trade, how to weave silk, and so on in medieval times then buy the book. If you are looking for a nice romance book then takes you away, forget it. This book is best borrowed from a friend, borrowed from the library, but not bought. If you have a project due on making silk, coloring silk, weaving silk, selling silk, and want it set in medieval times well then use this book as a reference. The author was trying to write a historical romance along with authentic touches but went too far in detailing the silk trade. Come on already! Bring on the romance! Enough of the silk!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In the best of "historical novels" and fun to read. Easy on the eyes.
katknit More than 1 year ago
"The more things change, the more they stay the same." Figures in Silk, a book about surviving life in London during the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III, certainly validates the old saying. Sisters Isabel and Jane experience first hand the effects of political turmoil, one from the outside, and the other from the inside, of court life. Both girls are unwillingly married at a young age, but neither marriage survives. One sister goes into the silk trade with her dynamic mother in law, and the other becomes mistress to the king. The plot is fairly standard issue for historical fiction with womjen protagonists, but its emphasis on political infighting, intrigue, and machinations, is its driving force. The author's treatment of Richard III is balanced, and major and supporting characters alike are well developed. Three dramatic but credible surprises make for a satisfying conclusion and an enjoyable reading adventure.
Hammbone More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the storyline, characters, and learned a lot about the time period and merchants of this era. It had some surprising twists and turns.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Vanora Bennett manages to capture the atmosphere of the 15th Century with great success. Entertaining subject matter and storyline. I am looking forward to reading "Portrait of an Unknown Woman".
beachpolly More than 1 year ago
I liked the part about the silk industry the best. Stories about the English royal families have been over done.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really liked this book. It is about a girl who works her way up in the weaving/sewing trade in 1400s London, but it is also about love, friendship, commerce, history, mystery, arts, and more.
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debralmartin More than 1 year ago
I am a fan of historical fiction and when I saw FIGURES IN SILK in the bargain pile, I grabbed it. From the description on the back book cover, I thought I'd be enjoying the story about two sisters, but I was sorely disappointed. The book focuses mainly on Isabel who we first meet as a 14-year-old sheltered girl from a wealthy family and her fears about being forced into marriage with Thomas Claver. In the first scene she is praying/sobbing in church when she meets a "hard" stranger with a "wolfish" smile. She is instantly captivated by him and so begins her decade plus affair with Dickon (aka Richard, Duke of Gloucester). When she agrees to share a meal with him, it feels unbelievable that an innocent girl with no worldly experience would agree to do this. Isabel goes on to marry Thomas Claver and her life is set on a path of silk merchants. There are some good parts in the book especially Isabel's determination to find her place in the Claver household when her husband is killed after only two weeks of marriage. I was rooting for her at this point in the book, but the endless descriptions of silks, fabrics and the intricacies of the silk trade were boring and I ended up skipping pages at a time. The author clearly misses the mark in not focusing more on the sisterly relationship of Isabel and Jane. I actually thought Jane's story was quite interesting, but there were only snippets of how she became the mistress of King Edward, survived being arrested as a witch and imprisoned in Ludgate Prison. Even with this turn of events, Isabel remains enamored with Dickon/Richard and never once believes that he has done despicable things to become King. For such a smart business woman, Isabel can't seem to connect the dots. Another point where the reader must suspend belief is throughout the book both sisters are having affairs for 10+ years, but neither one ends up having a child. That seemed totally unrealistic along with the scene involving the arrest and execution of Lord Hastings. For this one scene only Richard is portrayed as the "mad" king. It was totally out of character with how Richard had been portrayed throughout the story. The ending of the book seemed contrived and not satisfying at all. I didn't care what Isabel did. This book could have been a fresh take on Richard III's rise and fall during the War of the Roses, but it falls short on so many levels that I cannot recommend it
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I wish the ending would have been different, but it was a great book.
ilovebaking2 More than 1 year ago
This is the first novel I have read by Ms. Bennett and was pleasantly surprised. The story kept me fully engaged from the start. The premise revolves around the Lambert sisters and their relationships with Edward IV and Richard III. Will be reading more by this author as I thoroughly enjoyed her style and delivery of material.