Thursday, February 19, 2009

Figures in Silk-Vanora Bennett

Figures in Silk
Vanora Bennett
Morrow, Apr 1 2009, $25.99
ISBN: 9780061689840

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

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