Author: Sonia Velton Published: January 2019 Pages: 416 Rating: 5 stars
Historical fiction wins my heart once again. The cover art for this alone was enough to make me fall head over heels in love with this book.
Blackberry and Wild Rose is an atmospheric novel set in Spitalfields, a parish in London in the late 18th century. Now I love a historical fiction novel. But, tell me it’s historical fiction novel set in England? You’ve instantly piqued my interest. Homes of respectable merchants and Huguenot weavers fill the area. Neighbouring them, however, are brothels, pubs and a bustling marketplace, a clear juxtaposition laid out before us between the social classes.
‘When a young girl from the country arrives in London, she is like a caterpillar on a leaf, just waiting for the next bird to pass by.’
A young Sara Kemp arrives in Spitalfields bright-eyed and optimistic, ready to seize any opportunity which comes her way. Her nativity, however, leads her to be tricked into working in one of the parish’s notorious brothels.
Esther, on the other hand, is a respectable woman married to a master silk weaver. While distributing Bibles in the bordering poor quarters of Spitalfields, Esther witnesses Sara being harassed by her Madam outside the brothel. In her devout desire to help her less fortunate neighbours, Esther comes to the rescue and offers her employment as her maid. As their lives intertwine, the relationship they develop is an uneasy one.
Sara, although posing as grateful in her presence, resents how her mistress is blind to the hypocrisy of her own household. Meanwhile, Esther is so wrapped up in her own affairs that she perceives Sara as nothing but a lady’s maid doing her job. She has painted her own designs all her life, creating delicate floral patterns. Her dream of them being woven into fine silk appears to be seemingly possible upon marrying a Huguenot weaver, Elias. However, he laughs at and belittles her ambition. What woman could possibly work among the silk-weavers?
‘Elias thinks that people are moulded like jelly by their choices, and, once set, they can never be anything else.’
Determined not to let her husband thwart her dreams, she soon forms a relationship with the apprentice journeyman who works in their garret weaving his masterpiece. Events unfold, and men disrupt the forging friendship of the women. With ulterior motives and endless secrets, a tale of betrayal, discretion and ambition unravels before us inevitably resulting in chaos.
Despite the oppressive society in which they live, Esther and Sara are two headstrong women who are determined to pursue their dreams. They’re believable characters who, although from opposite worlds, have stories just as compelling as the other.
Velton’s elegant prose and rich descriptions made the scenes of London’s East End leap out from the pages. There’s no doubt that a great amount of research was carried out, resulting in a story which didn’t only entertain, but educated. I didn’t expect the lives of silk weavers or trade unions to fascinate me; from learning about the challenges the silk weavers faced, to the workers fight against the unscrupulous masters for their rights, this story had me in its grip.
They say don’t judge a book by its cover. However, Blackberry and Wild Rose is a story just as beautiful and elegant as the silk illustration we see before us. This is the perfect novel for fellow lovers of historical fiction which will leave you yearning for more.
Thanks to NetGalley and Quercus Books for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review!
You can find out more about the book here on Goodreads.
Purchase the book here.
Thanks for reading!