Black Berry & Wild Rose
Set in eighteenth-century Spitalfields, London, Blackberry and Wild Rose is the rich and atmospheric tale of a household of Huguenot silk weavers as the pursuit of the perfect silk design leads them all into ambition, love, and betrayal.
When Esther Thorel, wife of a master silk weaver, rescues Sara Kemp from a brothel, she thinks she is doing God’s will, but her good deed is not returned. Sara quickly realizes that the Thorel household is built on hypocrisy and lies and soon tires of the drudgery of life as Esther’s new lady’s maid. As the two women’s relationship becomes increasingly fractious, Sara resolves to find out what it is that so preoccupies her mistress …
Esther has long yearned to be a silk designer. When her early water colors are dismissed by her husband, Elias, as the daubs of a foolish girl, she continues her attempts in secret. It may have been that none of them would ever have become actual silks, were it not for the presence of the extraordinarily talented Bisby Lambert in the Thorel household. Brought in by Elias to weave his masterpiece on the Thorel’s loom in the attic of their house in Spitalfields, the strange cadence of the loom as Bisby works is like a siren call to Esther. The minute she first sets foot in the garret and sees Bisby Lambert at his loom, marks the beginning of Blackberry and Wild Rose, the most exquisite silk design Spitalfields has ever seen, and the end of the Thorel household’s veneer of perfection.
As unrest among the journeyman silk weavers boils over into riot and rebellion, it leads to a devastating day of reckoning between Esther and Sara.
Shannon Dyer and Lisa Fernandes are here to share their thoughts on Blackberry and Wild Rose.
Lisa: I knew little about the world of silk weaving before I picked up this book, and I confess I found myself fascinated. What did you think, Shannon?
Shannon: I’ve read a couple of other books dealing with London’s silk empire, but my knowledge isn’t at all extensive. The author did a fantastic job bringing the setting to life, and I honestly thought it was the strongest thing about this novel.
Lisa: How did you like Sara? Could you relate to her? Did you find her too naïve and heedless to be believed?
Shannon: It’s obvious Sara lived a pretty sheltered life before coming to London, so the fact that she was fairly naive didn’t surprise me. I did get frustrated by her inability to think things through before rushing headlong into some rather horrifying situations. I wanted her to stop, take stock of things, and then make a solid decision, but she never seemed capable of doing this, so it was really difficult for me to relate to and sympathize with her.
Lisa: What about Esther?
Shannon: Esther was much easier for me to deal with than Sara. I loved her willingness to chase her dreams even though that wasn’t something society was in favor of her doing. She was a little close-minded at times, but her character did grow a great deal over the course of the story, something I really appreciated.
Lisa: Elias is much harder to like – closed off and penned in by tradition and moral rigidity that ultimately proved false – it was hard to sympathize with him. How did you feel about him and his relationship with Esther?
Shannon: Elias was pretty horrible. He treated Esther shabbily, and didn’t seem to see anything wrong with his behavior. He wanted her to occupy herself with things he considered appropriate for a woman of her class, and he never took the time to know her as a person with hopes and dreams of her own.
Lisa: John and Bisby were two totally different characters, one almost cartoonishly bitter, the other almost cartoonishly idealistic. What did you think of them?
Shannon: I agree with your assessment of both of them. Neither felt real or relatable. It was almost as if the author tried too hard to make them different from one another, succeeding only in making them feel silly and over the top.
Lisa: Sara’s relationship with John and Brisby’s relationship with Esther come from two different ideals, ideas and directions. How did you feel about them?
Shannon: I honestly wasn’t impressed by either relationship. John is a man ruled by his anger, and nothing about him seemed to fit with Sara. I honestly don’t understand what she saw in him. Bisby’s feelings for Esther made a bit more sense, but there were so many obstacles in their way, and Bisby’s rosy view of the world was hard to take. I love romances where the characters seem to complete each other, and that didn’t happen here.
Lisa: How do you feel about the way Velton described the world of Georgian London and the world of silk merchantry?
Shannon: It was the vibrant setting that kept me reading this book. I loved Velton’s descriptions of London and those who made their homes there. She must have done quite a bit of research in order to recreate it so well, and I applaud her for it. I loved her depiction of both the seedy underbelly of the city as well as the more gentrified parts.
Lisa: The novel carries many truths about the heavy weight of class differences – and tells quite ably of the hypocrisy between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’; the ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’, of the evils of wages poorly handled and the false hypocrisy of those who hide their sins behind pious façades.
Shannon: It’s hard to strike the right balance when incorporating a strong message into a novel like this. Some authors drive their points home again and again, making it difficult for the reader to remain engaged. Fortunately, Ms. Velton didn’t do this and I thought her message was nicely woven into the story. She allowed the plights of her characters to illustrate her points in a way that felt quite organic.
Lisa: Who was your favorite minor character?
Shannon: None of the minor characters really did anything for me. Everyone seemed designed to play a certain part in the story, and I didn’t feel drawn to any of them. They just felt flat and two-dimensional, more like props than actual people.
Lisa: What’s your final grade? I’m giving it a B–; Sara’s foolishness turned her into an almost Candide-like figure after awhile, but Esther and the setting kept me turning the pages.
Shannon: Unfortunately, this gets a C from me. The setting was intriguing, but I wasn’t hugely attached to the characters. Esther was my favorite, but she wasn’t strong enough to carry the entire story for me. I wanted more depth and less pigeon-holing.