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Blackberry & Wild Rose

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WHEN Esther Thorel, the wife of a Huguenot silk-weaver, rescues Sara Kemp from a brothel she thinks she is doing God’s will. Sara is not convinced being a maid is better than being a whore, but the chance to escape her grasping ‘madam’ is too good to refuse.

Inside the Thorels’ tall house in Spitalfields, where the strange cadence of the looms fills the attic, the two women forge an uneasy relationship. The physical intimacies of washing and dressing belie the reality: Sara despises her mistress’s blindness to the hypocrisy of her household, while Esther is too wrapped up in her own secrets to see Sara as anything more than another charitable cause.

It is silk that has Esther so distracted. For years she has painted her own designs, dreaming that one day her husband will weave them into reality. When he laughs at her ambition, she strikes up a relationship with one of the journeyman weavers in her attic who teaches her to weave and unwittingly sets in motion events that will change the fate of the whole Thorel household.

416 pages, Hardcover

First published January 8, 2019

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About the author

Sonia Velton

4 books115 followers
Sonia Velton has been a solicitor in Hong Kong, a Robert Schuman Scholar in Luxembourg and spent eight years being a full-time Mum of three in Dubai. She now lives in Kent. Her first novel, BLACKBERRY AND WILD ROSE was short-listed for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, long-listed for the HWA Debut Crown and has been optioned for film. Her second book, THE IMAGE OF HER, is a literary thriller about two women whose lives come together in a way that is both chilling and awe-inspiring.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 457 reviews
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,712 reviews25k followers
December 4, 2018
Sonia Velton writes beautifully sumptuous and atmospheric historical fiction set in the late eighteenth century amidst the Huguenot silk weavers of London's East End that reminded me strongly of Jessie Burton's The Miniaturist. It begins in Spitalfield in 1768, and the naive, unlucky Sarah Kemp has been tricked into working in a brothel. The wife of a Huguenot silk weaver, Esther Thorel, rescues the desperate Sarah from being a whore by offering her employment as her maid, an act of Christian charity. However, Sarah is not as thankful as you might expect, harbouring resentment and contemptuous of Esther's inability to perceive the hypocrisy rampant in her own home. A strangely intense and uneasy relationship begins to develop between the two women, full of intrigue, turbulence and drama.

Esther has ambitions of being a silk designer, but her husband is scornful of her desires as he pours cold water on her dreams. However, Esther is determined not to be thwarted as she connects with the journeyman silk weaver, Bisby, but there are huge repercussions that ensue. As depicted by the likes of John Barnstaple, there is anger and rage at the working conditions the silk weavers face, giving rise to conflict and violence. This is a story of flawed characters, a house of secrets, betrayal, deceit, love, loss, power, ambition and hope. Velton makes the London of this era come alive with her rich descriptions, and she has clearly done her research when it comes to the silk weaving industry. There are insights at both ends of the social spectrum and the very real difficulties women face behind closed doors, irrespective of their social position. I found the state of the silk weaving and the politics in the London of this time absolutely fascinating. A wonderful piece of historical fiction that weaves a spell. Many thanks to Quercus for an ARC.

Profile Image for Beata.
756 reviews1,158 followers
January 18, 2019
This novel's setting was the main reason I decided to read it: London, 1768, the world of the Huguenot silk-weavers. This is a solid HF, with a good story behind, and my only complaint is that I expected even more historical information on the diaspora even though the Author did her job well and while reading you receive substantial insight into the world of this particular Diaspora in the 18th century London. recommended to all HF fans.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
811 reviews1,268 followers
September 25, 2019
A beautifully written debut novel,
Blackberry & Wild Rose​
is set during the mid-eighteenth century in London and tells the story of Sara, a young woman forced into a life of prostitution. It is also the story of Esther, wife of a silk weaver who longs to create beautiful silk herself. The style and subject matter are reminiscent of Tracy Chevalier's books and has several intriguing twists. It is exquisitely written though occasionally I found my attention wandering. The reason for this was not the book but the subject matter. Woman-man relationships are so tedious and I find them hard to relate to. For this reason alone I at times grew slightly bored with the book. However, the story itself is intriguing and my interest quickly returned each time my attention strayed. Fans of historical fiction will love this novel and I will be looking forward to seeing what Ms. Velton writes in the future. 4.5 stars rounded up.
Profile Image for Umut.
355 reviews164 followers
December 10, 2018
I love historical fiction, and I enjoyed this book. It has a gorgeous cover reflecting the Silk weaving times back in times, in London. I think the author did a good research.
I liked to read about the silk weavers, the tension between masters and the journeyman. I found it original and was curious to learn about these.
The household part where we had 2 women narrating the story was a bit predictable. Romances, revenge, love, etc. The combination of these 2 aspects made the story an easy, entertaining read.
Overall, it was a solid historical fiction debut.
Profile Image for Marialyce (on our way to Venice).
2,038 reviews709 followers
March 25, 2019
Who has not loved the texture and beauty of silk? Whether you wear it, sleep on it, or have it incorporated into your furniture, silk is a part of your life. In the book Blackberry and Wild Roses, we learn of silk making in the eighteenth century and also of the beginnings of labor unions. I must also say that this exquisite cover so mimics the gorgeous patterns that silk has often incorporated.

Esther Thorel is a wife of a prosperous silk maker. She is drawn to a young girl, Sara Kemp, a woman of ill repute. Esther is a good Christian so it becomes her desire to save this girl. She takes Sara into her home, a place where unhappiness resides along with the looms for silk making. The women form a tenuous relationship not really seeing each other for what they are and what secrets they harbor.

Esther is also a painter. She so wants her husband to incorporate her paining designs into his silk making. However, that is not to be, as her husband, as we come to learn, is a despicable character. Esther is able to eventually convince one of the weavers, a man who hopes one day to become a master silk maker, to weave her design while her husband remains unknowing in this plan Repercussions occur which Esther had never thought of.

Sara, herself sees and knows thing about the Thorel household. Coming to London, seemingly abandoned by her mother, Sara is ensnared by an unscrupulous woman who has Sara become a prostitute. Life is an ever ending series of men and when one man tries to almost kill her during rough sex, she is determined to get away. She now sees Esther as her only hope.

Will these two woman have a future? Will the men in their lives allow them to have their own lives or will Esther and Sara continue to be under the yolk of men who only have their own interests in mind and heart?

Set against a time when women were definitely considered objects, this story brings us the workings of not only silk making but also a look at the way in which men so dominated all things. It was a sad tale, and the character of Esther is loosely based on Anna Maria Garthwaite, a famous silk maker of the mid eighteenth century. Interestingly the title takes its name from one of her designs.
This book is due to be published on May 7, 2019
Profile Image for 8stitches 9lives.
2,854 reviews1,644 followers
January 10, 2019
Blackberry and Wild Rose, Sonia Velton's historical fiction debut, is based around the silk workers in 1860s Spitalfields, London. From the alternating perspectives of Sara and Esther it illustrates the hardship and destitution present at that time. It also explores many more important but overlooked issues of the time such as the conflict between journeyman weavers and master weavers and the fact that women are forbidden to work in certain professions. This is a beautifully written, atmospheric and fascinating account of what it was like to live and fight against present-day problems in this bygone era. The rich detail perfectly portrays the adversity most of the poor felt at the time and was quite uncomfortable and sad to learn about.

You really feel emotional for what the characters go through in their lives. This is historical fiction at its best, and you can tell that the author has carried out extensive research to make the story as realistic and believable as possible; Velton did an exceptional job of that. I look forward to reading more of her work. I'm very excited to see what comes next.

Many thanks to Quercus Books for an ARC.
Profile Image for Emma.
2,510 reviews855 followers
February 1, 2019
I love historical fiction and was very much looking forward to starting this. The context of the silk weavers of London and the competition with French and Belgian silk; the banning of Indian calico cotton; the London setting- these were very interesting details to me. However it felt like nothing really happened (not true but that's how it felt!) and there were no sympathetic characters. Not a bad read. Just not a great one.
Profile Image for Krista.
831 reviews62 followers
May 4, 2019
Rating: 3.5 stars rounded down the 3 stars

Sonia Velton has written an interesting work of historical fiction set in London in the 1760’s. I knew very little about the silk weaving trade concentrated in the Spitalfields area of London at that time. Nor did I realize that there were actual riots then as the weavers rebelled against the lowering of their piece rate wages when the industry started losing business to the Indian cotton calico trade.

The story is told from the dual points of view of Sara and Esther. Sara Kemp arrived in London as a teenager fresh off the farm, and was swooped up by a seemingly kindly older lady who promptly put her to work in her brothel. Esther Thorel encountered Sara and the brothel owner as she was walking in the area where the brothel was located, distributing Bibles. Esther married into the Huguenot faith when she married Master Weaver, Elias. The Huguenot community at that time was focused on silk production, and religious piety. It was a closed community that did not welcome Esther warmly.

Esther eventually provides a refuge for Sara after Sara flees the brothel. Sara becomes Esther’s maid, and watches as Esther tries to get her emotionally distant husband to allow her to design silk patterns. She also sees other things going on below the surface of the household that Esther is ignorant of.

Over the ensuing months Sara and Esther both struggle to find niches for themselves inside and outside of the Thorel household. Esther encounters Bisby Lambert who is working on his ‘masterpiece’ of silk weaving on the unused loom in the Thorel’s attic. Elias Thorel is allowing Bisby to use his loom to work on the piece that could transform Bisby from a journeyman weaver to a Master Weaver. That is a very rare opportunity. Esther convinces Bisby to show her how the loom works, and to please just weave a few rows of the ‘Blackberry and Wild Rose’ pattern that she’s devised. A friendship grows from there as they continue to weave the pattern together.

Sara encounters folks outside of the household that first bring excitement and then more tribulations to her life. She is well positioned to witness the events leading up to the Spitalfield riots. She speaks her mind to the downstairs servants in the household, and wavers between frustration and insight as to the Esther’s experiences. She can see danger where Esther cannot. There is in fact danger on all sides that culminates in the riots and eventual trials. Elias Thorel is deeply involved in the prosecution of the accused protagonist of the riots, to the horror of his wife and Sara.

I won’t go into how the story ends. Suffice it to say that I’m really grateful that I was not born in this era, or this area. It was such a brutal time as illustrated by the capriciousness of the law, and the minimal rights of the poor. It makes me glad that I have the rights that I do, especially as a woman in our contemporary society. This was a fine book that taught me some history, and entertained me over the course of a few days.

‘Thank-You’ to NetGalley; the publisher, Blackstone Publishing; and the author, Sonia Velton; for providing a free e-ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Evie Braithwaite.
271 reviews254 followers
January 11, 2019
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. This is an area filled with the homes of respectable merchants and Huguenot weavers. 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 a brothel.

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 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, her dream of them being woven into fine silk appearing to be seemingly possible upon marrying Elias, a Huguenot weaver. 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 to weave 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 follow 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 that didn’t only entertain, but educated. I didn’t expect to be fascinated by the lives of silk weavers or trade unions; 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, but 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.
Profile Image for Annette.
798 reviews382 followers
January 7, 2019
“Esther’s character is loosely inspired by Anna Maria Garthwaite, the foremost designer of Spitalfields silks during the mid-eighteenth century. She is credited with bringing the artistry of painting to the loom, although her success predated the industrial troubles of the Spitalfields silk industry by some years. Many of her patterns and silks have survived and can be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum (London).

The eighteenth century Spitalfields silk weavers were a militant bunch and formed our early trade unions, then called combinations. The industrial tensions between the journeyman weavers and the master weavers are accurate and culminated in sporadic riots, during which the ‘cutters’ would cut and destroy the master’s silk as punishment for not co-operating with the combinations.”

The story is set in the second part of the 18th century in Spitalfields, London.

Sara Kemp, as a young girl from the country, arrives in London with an image of “wide, clean streets lined with tall houses, their windows framing elegant parlours.” Instead she lands in some filthy streets straight into the clutches of Mrs. Swann, a brothel keeper.

Esther Thorel has been married to Elias Thorel for four years; a fine master silk weaver. A trade he has learned from his father. And his father’s father “had learned the craft on the famous looms of Lyon (France), but when Huguenots could no longer live in peace in their homeland, his grandfather had escaped bringing nothing with him save this exquisite silk.”

Elias lets a journeyman weaver, Bisby Lamber, use a free loom standing at his attic in exchange for Bisby being able to obtain master status and Elias selling his work.

Esther is a painter herself and once imagined that their union of their talents would be fruitful. But as soon as she shows her husband flowers she painted in a repeating pattern, hoping he could use it as a design for his weaving, that’s when she realizes how wrong she was. As a result she retreats into charity work.

One day, as she is delivering the Bibles to the church, rain catches her. She hides in a tiny alleyway under an overhung house, a style built before the Great Fire. She sees this as a sign from God. And that’s when she meets Sara, who crosses the alleyway.

Esther hires Sara as a maidservant.

Esther sees new hope with the new weaver. She approaches him without her husband’s knowledge. As much as her husband was discouraging, Bisby is very encouraging. He explains to Esther that she needs to transcribe her design onto point paper in order for a weaver to be able to read her design. And at her persistence, he teaches her how to weave.

As any other trade, the weavers’ trade is controlled by masters. The weavers make very little money, never enough to pay fees to become a master, and not to mention to purchase own looms and materials to start a business. This leads to many revolts and a process where two men are involved. One lives, one hangs.

The voices of these two women alternate, weaving a vivid story, which is engaging from the very first page to the very last one. The language is sharp, revealing characters of two strong women.

If you’d like to read more about silk business particularly silkwomen of 15th century London – Figures in Silk by Vanora Bennett

If you enjoy stories of alternating voices and lesser-known women who made their mark in history – Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

Profile Image for MaryannC Victorian Dreams .
494 reviews108 followers
March 25, 2019
This was absolutely wonderful and it earns a place among my favorites. I know this is a simply stated remark but I don't think my review would it do it justice because sometimes I get too tongue tied trying to describe the depth and eloquence of a book that has me enthralled like this one. Recommended.
Profile Image for Tonkica.
648 reviews122 followers
June 29, 2022

„Roman Kupina i divlja ruža prvi je roman Sonie Velton, a nadahnut je stvarnim likovima te povijesnim događajima.“

Ova me rečenica odmah kupila. Volim „prave“ priče. Ali... :-/

Na kraju sam se jako dugo trudila da me priča „uzme“ i da se nešto počne dešavati. Dešavanja sam dobila u zadnjih 20% knjige. Kao da je prvih 80% bio uvod, a onda je spisateljica sve ostalo, a i ono bitno potrpala u tih zadnjih, niti 100 stranica! I cijelo vrijeme sam imala osjećaj da je bitan dio priče ta pobuna i te zadruge, te da je ostalo tamo ispisano samo kako bi spisateljica to mogla spomenuti.

Na kraju, u napomeni mi je to nekako i potvrdila. Žao mi je da nije odabrala pisati o „bitnijem“ dijelu, onom o Ester, o stvarnoj naistaknutijoj dizajnerici svile Anna Marija Garthwaite. Ili kvalitetno o nezadovoljstvu radnika u proizvodnji svile. Ovako smo dobili - ništa kako treba.

Sara? Nisam se s njom baš pronašla, a ni s Ester, dok sam muške likove mogla „vidjeti“. Bili su brutalni, i „ful bitni“, jer se u to vrijeme tako živjelo. „Moj suprug ne vjeruje u otkupljenje: Elias misli da su ljudi poput gline koju oblikuju njihovi izbori, a kad se jednom stvrdnu, više ne mogu biti ništa drugo.“

Ali ako je ta Anna (Ester) bila najpoznatija dizajnerica tada u tom muškom svijetu, krajem 18. stoljeća, vjerujem da se nekako istaknula, doznalo se za nju, zar ne? Pa čitamo o njoj ovdje! U knjizi nisam baš osjetila njezinu pretjeranu žar i ljubav i volju. Je, bila je spomenuta, ali nisam ju osjetila. Jako mlako... Baš šteta potencijala ideje i teme.
Profile Image for Cathy.
1,218 reviews230 followers
January 5, 2019
Tricked into prostitution as an innocent newcomer to London, Sara’s rescue by Esther from the clutches of the awful Mrs. Swann offers her the possibility of gaining control over her life. However, Sara soon finds that is seems she may have swapped one form of dependence for another, constantly at the back and call of her new mistress. Furthermore, the possibility that the shameful details of her previous life may be revealed is a constant fear, particularly since not everyone in the Thorel household welcomes her arrival.

Esther’s desire and determination to use her artistic talent to produce designs for silk is a search for her own form of emancipation, an escape from what she describes at one point as ‘her gilded cage’. It also becomes an act of defiance in response to her husband Elias’s hypocrisy and deceit - ‘He was not the man I had thought he was and I no longer took his word for granted’ - and his dismissal of her role as nothing more than social status symbol, bed-mate or organiser of their household. ‘There was no mistress of silk in this house, only a master.’

The stories of Esther and Sara are revealed to the reader in alternating points of view, in the first person. Alongside learning of their stories, I also enjoyed discovering fascinating detail about the silk weaving process and its place in the Huguenot community of the time. In an early example of the affects of globalisation, it was interesting to witness how the pressures on the industry as a result of imports from abroad and competition from cheaper material created unrest between the journeymen silk weavers and those who controlled the Guild system and the silk weavers’ livelihoods.

At the end of the book, Esther and Sara both find themselves facing difficult personal and moral choices that may affect others, some with tragic consequences. However, their experiences leave both women stronger, leaving open the possibility of them forging different, more fulfilling paths in the future. (There were a couple of very minor unresolved plot points for a curious reader like myself.)

Blackberry and Wild Rose is an impressive, assured debut that will prove a treat for fans of historical fiction with well-crafted female characters and an interesting historical setting. In the author’s historical note, she explains that Esther’s character is ‘loosely inspired’ by a real life female pioneer of the Spitalfields silk community.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of publishers, Quercus, and NetGalley.
January 1, 2019
Set against the backdrop of the silk weaving rebellions in 1760s Spitalfields, Sonia Velton’s debut historical fiction novel brings to life the story of two woman from very different backgrounds in one household and captures the fraught relationship between them which threatens to be both of their undoing. When genteel Huguenot wife, Esther Thorel, catches sight of ill-dressed Sara Kemp being berated by deceitful ‘madam’, Mrs Swann, it is 1768 and she can only guess at the unfortunate circumstances that have seen the girl swept up upon her arrival in London and broken into a life working as a whore above an East End tavern. Seeing rescuing the girl as a simple act of Christian charity befitting a good Huguenot wife and fulfilling her role in the community, brazen Sara does not share Mrs Thorels’ opinion that life as a servant is better than the alternative and it takes a brush with death to push Sara into the household of master silk weaver, Mr Elias Thorel, and his wife in 10 Spital Square.

Esther, meanwhile, feels frustrated simply fulfilling the limited demand of overseeing the running of a God-fearing and rather pious household and is shackled by her husband’s dismissive attitude to her watercolour painting and dreams of becoming involved in the silk trade through pattern designing. Limited to entertaining, sewing shirts for the poor and accounting for every penny, she is therefore rather affronted when Elias allows the most skilled journeyman weaver in Spitalfields into the garret of their home to craft his master piece with a view to supporting his application to join the Weavers’ Company and become a master in his own right. But humble journeyman and skilled pattern weaver, Bisby Lambert, is not what Esther is expecting and his interest, advice and assistance in fulfilling her own dream sparks a smouldering passion and a shared secret. Distracted from her husband and just what is going on below stairs, including the jealously of scullery maid, Moll, at being usurped in status by a whore, and Sara’s resentment at being in debt to her mistress, tensions are soon brewing. Well aware of the value of the leverage in an avaricious world, driven Sara makes it her business to find out just what her mistress is hiding and also catch the eye of John Barnstaple, the striking weaver of plain silk that shares the lodgings of Bisby Lambert in the weavers cottages of Buttermilk Alley.

As Sara takes a lover in the form of vengeful, brutish and arrogant Barnstaple who is bitter at the perceived slight of Elias Thorel in favouring Lambert, it contrasts with the unspoken words and chaste behaviour of respectful Bisby Lambert and his relationship with Esther. As one couple sow seeds of destruction, the other union combines to craft a patterned floral silk of spectacular complexity and extraordinary beauty. As the ambitions and desires of both women push them into uncharted territory and their lives become inextricably linked, just what price will sponsor, Esther, and former prostitute Sara, pay? And will the Blackberry and Wild Rose painted by Esther ever go from watercolour to the point pattern required for weaving and eventually see Esther’s dream come to fruition? As the forced intimacies of the relationship between lady’s maid and mistress swing between suspicion and fractious alliances, the story is underpinned by a tight plot that sees the advantage swing between the two at a brisk pace and thereby expertly hold attention.

The dual first-person narrative moves between Esther and Sara and as well as their own feelings also shows how each woman perceives the other and their behaviour. Velton cleverly illustrates how each of the women are informed by what they know of life and the rules of the different worlds they are part of, from Esther’s naivety at the possibility of Sara’s duplicity to Sara’s impetuous eye for getting ahead regardless of the consequences. The tension is palpable as each woman takes up the reins of the story and the hypocrisy in the Thorels’ household, from the opulence of their surroundings to Esther’s vanity, drive an increasing wedge between mistress and lady’s maid. Sara’s contempt and festering rancour set alongside Esther’s humility help to distinguish between each of the two narrative voices.

The story expertly draws out the bitterness in the Thorels’ marriage from Elias’ choice of an English bride that has pushed him to the fringes of his community and hindered his progress in the trade, to his disappointment at Esther’s failure to produce a heir and fulfil her expected duty. It is this awareness of a loveless marriage that pervades the household and with it a chance for a bitter servant to create friction between the couple. But as incitement, rioting and violence between masters and journeymen leads the individuals into a savage courtroom battle, the uncertainty facing both women engenders a newfound empathy for the other and with it the potential to finally unite them.

Wide in scope and capturing the changing fortunes of the silk industry evoked through a cast of realistically flawed characters, Blackberry and Wild Rose is a multifaceted drama that captures a time, place and a story that truly belongs to Spitalfields. Utterly enthralling, unexpectedly suspenseful and thoroughly involving, I cannot remember becoming so thoroughly immersed in a historical fiction novel since Minette Walters Black Death saga. Packed full of intrigue, secrets, lies, scandal and ultimately, betrayal, this wonderfully atmospheric drama culminates in a poignant denouement that proves nigh on impossible to predict. Sumptuous prose throughout is the icing on the cake of an exquisitely assured debut from an author whom I certainly hope to hear more of.

Blackberry and Wild Rose is loosely inspired by the story of an 18th century female silk designer and informed by the fascinating history of silk weaving in Spitalfields with the popularity of imported calico driving the profits of mercers, masters and journeymen down and thereby sparking the bitter tensions between masters and the illegal ‘combinations’ of journeymen that formed to protect their livelihoods.
Profile Image for ABCme.
320 reviews28 followers
November 17, 2018
Thank you Netgalley and Quercus Books for the ARC.

"You are but a woman."

But hell has no fury like a woman scorned!
Meet Esther, wife of London master silkweaver Elias, a firm Huguenot. The year is 1768 and Esther is a good christian and dedicated wife. When accidentally seeing Sara being boxed by her madam, she decides to offer the desperate girl a position as lady's maid in her household.
Meanwhile husband Elias takes on an apprentice journeyman who uses the looms in their attic to weave his masterpiece. As it turns out both woman and men have their secrets and pretty soon it's a messy situation.
But those abiding woman have a fierce fire raging inside. It's a beautiful thing to watch them follow their dreams, stay true to themselves and lift each other up.

Blackberry and Wild Rose is stunning historical fiction.
I loved being in London's East End, learning about the silkweavers and seeing early trade unions being formed.
The strong female characters gave me great joy in this overwhelmingly male environment.
Written so vividly I could smell the dirt, hear the noise and feel the tension. A fast paced, exciting story wrapped in a gorgeous cover. So good!
Profile Image for Fictionophile .
1,063 reviews340 followers
December 15, 2019
4.5 stars rounded up

Inspired by the life of Anna Maria Garthwaite, "Blackberry & Wild Rose" is a fictional rendering of the mid-eighteenth century silk industry in Spitalfields, London.

Esther Thorel - married into money and privilege, she is an Englishwoman in her late twenties.  Her husband Elias is a master silk weaver who married her to the displeasure of his Huguenot family. Vain and self-centered, he becomes increasingly dissatisfied with Esther when she fails to provide him with a child. Esther herself is an artist, but her talent is dismissed by her husband as the trivial pastime of a mere woman... Their marriage, which began with affection has turned into a convenience layered with cold contempt.

Sara Kemp - in her mid-teens, is coerced into prostitution by a wicked old woman who runs a brothel in a tavern. Sara seems to have been easily led, and assumes that she has got the fate that she deserves. Lacking in any self esteem, she accepts her lot in life - until... one of her 'customers' almost kills her and opens her eyes to her dire predicament.

Sara earlier came to the notice of the lady, Esther Thorel. So she now escapes the brothel to work as a maid in the Thorel household thinking that perhaps she can earn back her reputation. Though the two women are like oil and water, they eventually come to form some mutual regard.

"Virtue had a price, which turned out to be relentless hard work and tedium".


I thoroughly enjoyed my voyage to the past with Esther Thorel and Sara Kemp. Both were women who for various reasons were challenging to like, nonetheless their tragic story was compelling.

With themes of the appalling class divide, child labour, and lack of social support that was prevalent in the eighteenth century, the story speaks to the history of women while centering the story around the actual silk weavers revolts that took place in the 1760s.

The silk weavers laboured from sun-up until sundown to produce about a yard of silk. If someone cut a piece of silk it was considered serious enough to merit hanging.

Well written and well researched "Blackberry and Wild Rose" was an outstanding debut novel. The author took actual events and spun them into a fictional story which will delight readers who appreciate historical fiction. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,491 reviews2,726 followers
November 22, 2018
What really made this book for me is the history of the silk weavers of East London and the industrial unrest between the master weavers and journeyman. The story in the foreground is easily predictable, a standard tale of rivalry and tentative empathy between a mistress and her personal maid, of a loveless marriage and doomed romance.

Velton writes well but technically the voices of the two women of different social strata shouldn't sound the same as they do here: the craft isn't here to differentiate and make them individual.

All the same, this is atmospheric easy reading, similar to The Miniaturist though in a different setting. Entertaining switch-off reading.

Thanks to Quercus for an ARC via NetGalley.
Profile Image for Lucy Banks.
Author 12 books293 followers
October 23, 2018
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

A twisty-turny tale of female relationships, male dominance and deception, centred around the Huguenots.

I really enjoyed this book! I generally enjoy well-researched historical fiction anyway, but this one had the pleasant additional extra of being extremely well-plotted and clever.

Sara arrives in London and gets snared by a notorious Madam, who forces her to work as a whore. By chance, Esther, the wife of a Huguenot weaver, passes by and later rescues Sara, employing her as a maid. Her husband hires a weaver to work on his master piece in the garret of their home, who Esther takes a shine to for more reasons than one; and Sara finds herself smitten with another weaver who (let's be brutally honest here) is a bit of a bad'un.

The final court scenes are dramatic, tense and don't turn out the way I expected - which is always a good thing.

This was a richly imagined book, with scenes that leapt off the page. Not once did I question the authenticity of the tale, it felt very real and it's obvious the author did lots of research to achieve this. I also appreciated the depth of the characters; their flaws as well as their positive aspects. I never quite knew what each of them was going to do, which worked really well.

If you enjoy books like The Miniaturist or The Crimson Petal and the White, I'm confident this book will be right up your street. Definitely one of the better books I've read recently.
Profile Image for Dragana Martinović.
335 reviews44 followers
December 8, 2021
4.5 ⭐
Dopala mi se priča o dve žene i njihovoj sudbini u svetu muškaraca. Potpuno različite, a opet toliko slične. Njihove žudnje, strahovi i surovi pritisak okoline koji se trudi da im slomi svaki začetak strasti.
Tvrdoglave i nepopustljive, jedna drugoj će zauvek promeniti živote.

Povećala sam ocenu sa 4 na 4.5 samo jer nije zašećerila kraj i pretvorila ga u limunadu. Kraj je realan i imala sam grč u stomaku dok sam čitala.
Mnogo mi se dopao i deo o tkanju.
Profile Image for Eva.
838 reviews428 followers
January 22, 2019
As someone who has recently rediscovered her love for historical fiction, I’ve truly been spoilt lately. Sure, a nice gruesome murder or a bunch psychological games is fun to read about but there is something about being transported to ages long ago that totally captures my imagination.

Upon arriving in Spitalfields, Sara Kemp immediately lands herself in a whole heap of trouble. She is rescued by Esther Thorel, the wife of a prominent silk weaver, who offers Sara the position of being her maid. Not quite Sara’s dream job but definitely a step up from where she found herself. This marks the start of a rather uneasy relationship that will affect their lives.

I must say this didn’t at all turn out the way I expected it to and I was pleasantly surprised. Some of the silk weaving technicalities went completely over my head but as that wasn’t the be all and end all of the story, that didn’t really bother me. Because what matters far most is the divide between the upper and the lower classes and the battle a woman faces when she wants to do something men don’t think she’s meant for.

There’s a whole cast of extremely unlikeable characters. So much so that I’m hard pressed to decide which one I actually disliked the most. Yet, that too didn’t bother me because all the lies, deceit and betrayal made for one immersive story. And let’s not forget to mention the rich and vivid descriptions of 1860’s London that create the most wonderful atmosphere.

There is much to enjoy about this historical fiction novel and I went through a whole range of emotions, from anger to frustration to a touch of sadness at how unfair life can be. I learned quite a bit along the way too, which is always a bonus. Make sure to read the author’s notes, by the way. Blackberry & Wild Rose is a remarkable debut by Sonia Velton and I will most definitely be keeping my eye on her in future.
Profile Image for Charles Edwards-Freshwater.
281 reviews93 followers
November 12, 2019
I'm a big fan of historical fiction and in many ways Blackberry and Wild Rose didn't disappoint. The sumptuous descriptions of silk patterns, the smell and decay of London, the dark interiors of whore houses, the grandeur of city mansions - all of these settings come alive in the pages and make for a very compelling backdrop. In fact, the first half of the novel is arresting and exciting, and we quickly see how the fates of the two main characters (a girl who is effectively kidnapped and made to work as a whore who later becomes a lady's maid called Sara and the wife of a silk master, Esther) intertwine.

There were beautiful moments too, and some of the meditations by both of the main characters were interesting and added a nice level of humanity to them.

However, around the page 200 mark things sort of fall apart. It seems almost like the story loses direction and things fast become over-the-top and dramatic, and this is a detriment to an otherwise well realised narrative. Reading the afterword by the author, I see that she has sort of shoehorned the narrative to include events that weren't necessarily concurrent with the inspiration for her main character, and this sort of shows. To be honest, it was the characters themselves that started to let down the story at this point too.

My biggest gripe is with Sara. Somehow we're meant to believe that a woman who has been basically forced into becoming a prostitute makes a string of weird decisions that only are included to add unnecessary drama. For example, straight away when she becomes household staff she realises that she would be earning way, way less and doing horrible work anyway - Yet this ponderance is never really visited again and she settles into this new role despite pointing out her life would actually be better is she stayed at the whorehouse. She herself states that she'd have more freedom..and she doesn't even mind the work that much.

Fine, I guess. We all want to make more moral choices.

Following this, we are then meant to believe she becomes beguiled by some random silk journeyman and gets pregnant by him...and yet has no idea how to possibly abort an unwanted baby (despite realistically having probably encountered endless unwanted pregnancies while working in the brothel..even if not her own..the other girls surely?)


Then, after all this, we're meant to believe at the end her mother has missed her (not enough to look for her though, eh?), is fine with taking her back into her home with a random baby and that she was only sent away to protect her from being being raped by a master...who is now dead...and still her mother gave no shits about tracking her down.


Esther too has some radically stupid moments. After pressing her forehead against that of some boring weaver who barely had any characterisation throughout in her attic we're basically meant to believe they have some Romeo and Juliet style burning passion which hardly comes through in the pages. She barely meditates on the fact that some bloke is just nice to her and instead it's a sort of insta-love situation and I felt at times like I was reading a melodramatic play rather than a properly realised relationship between two people - it had Tulip Fever vibes (Deborah Moggach) but was somehow even more silly. Following this, a strange prison scene takes place near the end where he gushes cliche crap at her and she very mournfully accepts it all and returns these feelings. There's then a thinly veiled shoehorn plan to try to rescue him from his fate, but alas...no dice. Hur hur. It just felt lazy and like the writer was trying desperately to add drama to something which was already a bit over-the-top in the first place.

In the end, this novel was an enjoyable journey but not one that had a satisfying conclusion. You won't find much to tax you as a reader here, and the story bumps along predictably enough with some silly twists and turns that make it feel more farcical than believable, despite the real life inspirations and true historical events.

3.5 stars.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Patty Smith.
219 reviews72 followers
May 13, 2019
Many thanks to NetGalley, Blackstone Publishing and Sonia Velton for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are 100% my own and independent of receiving an advance copy.

This story is inspired from the real life of Anna Maria Garthwaite, a prominent designer of Spitalfields silks in the mid-eighteenth century. This story tells the tale of two characters, Esther and Sara who come from very different worlds. Esther is married to a Hugenot master silk weaver and although she is kept busy doing charity work and running the household, she craves something more. She loves to paint but what she really wants to do is design silks. But these are not times when women should want things and Esther has not done her most important job, which is to bear children, especially a son. Only a son can inherit his father’s trade and making silks has been in the Thorel family for generations. Sara, on the other hand, has been sent by her mother to London to try and make a better life for herself. She is quickly taken advantage of and before she even knows what is happening to her becomes a prostitute. Sara also yearns for more and doesn’t see why she shouldn’t have a good life. One day Esther takes notice of Sara and reaches out to help her. Sara goes to work for the Thorels and before long becomes Esther’s lady maid. This is not the life Sara envisioned for herself, emptying her lady’s chamber pot and doesn’t understand why, because of birth, she is relegated to a life of servitude. Esther is so ignorant of Sara’s life, yet she also wants to break out of the chains set upon her by the world. Esther dares to take up with Lambert, who is using Mr. Thorel’s loom to create his masterpiece and hopefully one day become a master weaver. Slowly he teaches Esther how to create a pattern and weave silk. Both woman yearn for a different life, but can they make it happen?

This one caught me by surprise. I wasn’t quite sure what I was in for but boy was I surprised. Then, to find out that it was inspired by real events - really incredible. This story is beautifully laid out, really exploring both women’s desires and the many sides there are to women. Velton stays true to their characters and never do they fall into some neat package, behaving as you would expect. You have the class struggle between Sara and Esther. Esther feels Sara should be so grateful to her for “rescuing” her, but Sara has a different perspective. Both women are pushing back against the narrow role of women in that century and have forward thinking views. The men in their lives, sadly, don’t care to see them for anything other than what they should be. So you have all of these different things at play and as a backdrop you have a volatile story of the weavers revolting against the masters. There is a strict hierarchy of weavers, similar to class structure and Lambert is striving to be something more. Then the master weavers are trying to keep their trade alive amongst the influx of new fabrics from India and China. I loved learning about the silk trade and never does the story become convoluted. There is a clear pace that accelerates with the heightened fervour of the tradesmen with time running out for both Sara and Esther. I enjoyed this read so much and was very engrossed in the story. Strong writing kept this story intact and I couldn’t put it down.
Profile Image for Aleksandra S..
121 reviews39 followers
January 10, 2022
Londonska parohija Spitafilds, kraj osamnaestog veka. Dve, po svemu, drugačije žene, Sara i Ester, čiji se životni putevi ukrštaju, a onda i stapaju u jedan. Roman je postavljen u vreme koje je definitivno pripadalo muškarcima. Žene su smatrane objektima, onim što je poželjno imati pokraj sebe i uglavnom bile zadužene samo za sopstvena domaćinstva (što je, naravno, bilo ono čime muškarci ne bi trebalo da se zamaraju). Hoće li se one izboriti za svoju budućnost ili zauvek ostati u senci muškaraca?

Radnja je smeštena u vreme kada se dešavaju pobune tkača svile u Spitafildsu i oživljava priču o dvema ženama čiji napet odnos preti da ih obe uništii. Dvostruki narativ u prvom licu kreće se između Ester i Sare, kao i njihovih sopstvenih raspoloženja i osećanja, pokazuje i kako svaka od njih doživljava drugu i njeno ponašanje. Velton veoma mudro ilustruje kako i koliko je svaka od žena u prilici da barata informacijama i iskustvima iz života i pravilima različitih svetova čiji su deo. Napetost je u svakom delu knjige sasvim opipljiva, gotovo da možete da je dodirnete. Sarin prezir i ogorčenost uz Esterinu poniznost pokazuju svu razliku među narativnim glasovima koji nas vode poglavljima. Priča izvlači na površinu svu gorčinu braka Torelovih, od Elijasovog (pogrešnog?) izbora engleske neveste koja ga je „gurnula“ na rub zajednice i omela njegov napredak u trgovini svile pa sve do njegovog razočaranja zbog činjenice da supruga ne uspeva da mu podari naslednika i tako ispuni svoju očekivanu bračnu dužnost. Sve ovo dovodi do laganog otrežnjenja svesti i zaključka o braku bez ljubavi, a kako je čitavo domaćinstvo prožeto takvom atmosferom, tu je i šansa da sluga uspe u svojoj zamisli da ovaj par udalji jedno od drugog.

Ova priča nam, pored procesa izrade svile, mnogo više govori o tome na koji način su muškarci dominirali svim stvarima. Lik Ester je zasnovan na liku i delu Ana Marije Gartvejt, poznatom proizvođaču svile iz osamnaestog veka, a sam naslov romana nosi naziv jednog od njenih mnogobrojnih dizajna. Mnoga važnija i nepravedno zanemarena pitanja tog doba, kao što je sukob kalfa tkača i majstora tkača svile, kao i da je ženama zabranjeno da se bave određenim poslovima, jeste obrađeno ovim romanom. Neredi i nasilje između majstora i kalfa će odvesti pojedince u bitku u sudnici, a neizvesnost sa kojom se suočavaju obe žene izazvaće novu vrstu empatije a sa njom i mogućnost konačnog ujedinjenja. Zaista lepo napisan, fascinantan prikaz o tome kako je bilo živeti i boriti se protiv problema sa kojima se i danas susrećemo. Bogati detalji savršeno oslikavaju nevolje koje je većina siromašnih doživaljavala u to vreme i zaista se može osetiti atmosfera tog doba. To je ono što mi se najviše i dopalo u romanu – mogla sam da koračam ulicama Spitafildsa, da zagledam lica ljudi koji prodaju na pijaci, da sklonim glavu pred Svonovom i njenim izopačenim osmehom, da prevrnem očima (jer za drugo bi me verovatno uhapsili) kada ugledam Torela, da se sažalim nad sudbinom Bizbija...

Ovo je stvarno jedna realistično odrađena istorijska fikcija, za čiju verodostojnost treba zahvaliti autorki koja je sprovela opsežna istraživanja kako bismo mi mogli da uživamo u finalnom proizvodu. O koricama i da ne govorim! Sam pogled na njih je dovoljan da se zaljubite u knjigu! Stoga, od mene, sve preporuke!
Profile Image for Laura.
684 reviews73 followers
January 27, 2019
Blackberry and Wild Rose, Sonia Velton's debut, is set in the late eighteenth century among the exiled French Huguenot community of silk weavers in the Spitalfields district of London. The story is told by two female first-person narrators: Esther, the wife of master weaver Elias, who feels isolated in the community because she was not born into it, and her maidservant Sara, 'rescued' by Esther from prostitution and becoming increasingly embroiled in the affairs of the household. This novel joins a large number of others that form a kind of sub-The Miniaturist genre of historical fiction, and I probably wouldn't have picked it up if I hadn't misread the blurb (as the original exodus of Huguenots from France took place in the late seventeenth century, I'd assumed that this novel was set then, and thought this would offer greater scope for exploring interesting questions than yet another novel set in late eighteenth-century London).

Nevertheless, Velton misses a trick with her Huguenot community, because although there's some nice historical detail about the process of weaving silk and weavers' combinations (early precursors of trade unions), there's very little on how this community differs from others around them, and almost nothing on their French origins. This is largely because Esther is not a Huguenot herself, for reasons that remain unclear (Elias marrying outside the community does not seem especially significant to the plot). Anna Maria Garthwaite, the historical figure that her story is partially based on, was indeed English, but given the pretty big divergences between Garthwaite's life and Esther's, there seemed no need to keep this detail.

Otherwise, Blackberry and Wild Rose unfolds on pretty predictable lines, but also frustrated me even more than this kind of novel usually does because of how incredibly unsympathetic Esther is. She's portrayed as selfish and short-sighted, happy to upturn the lives of those around her because of her desire to design new patterns for silk. In the opening chapters, Velton seemed to be using Sara to expose these faults through critically commenting on Esther's behaviour, but by the end of the novel, Sara thinks that 'She had always been kinder to me than I deserved'. If Velton is trying to make a subtle point here about working-class women's internalisation of class privilege, it doesn't land as it should. Unfortunately, this leaves us with one rather dull and unpleasant protagonist and one rather dull and passive protagonist.

Another novel with a beautiful cover that doesn't live up to its promise - two and a half stars.

I received a free proof copy of this novel from the publisher for review.
Profile Image for La La.
1,014 reviews126 followers
January 23, 2019
This book didn't even make it to my currently-reading shelf because I couldn't put it down! I basically read it right through with one sleep in the middle. I really wanted to give this five stars and 4.5 on the blog, but... the scene that starts the events of the story in motion was almost unbelievable; one of the main characters is sent to a city with the name of a family member and address to go to, and she loses the paper it is written on and cannot remember any of it. Not even the woman's name, or the street? Hmm... Then the ending was tied up in a bow, maybe not a neat little bow, but enough to make me wince that it took away from the "real feel" the story had. However, everything in between was delicious. I know some of you don't mind catalyst coincidences and poetic endings, so this book would suit you to a tee. I also loved that the love relationship elements were romance-lite.

The author did terrific research, especially with the method of weaving silk at that time. There are two POVs: one from a poor woman and one from a rich woman, which was wonderful because you get to see the particular motivations and thought processes associated with those social classes, and even better how each social class has it's own levels of class within itself. It also shows that honesty, charity, and empathy are not exclusive to higher social (economic) status and/or religious piety.

This is a strongly Feminist book. The women in the story looked past the patriarchal norms set for their lives and bravely pursued them. It also showed how there is usually a two tiered Feminist agenda in effect; similar to current times where the white suburban, pumpkin spice, activists seem to be concentrating their energies on the rights of their own socio-economic group and not spreading the love, as it were. This division in the movement is shown as the detriment it is, and how a united front needs to be built. The book was also filled to the brim with beautiful symbolism like the Blackberry and Wild Rose title. Both women thorny, one slow to ripen in her life, the other quick to bloom, and perceived less than the garden rose, but lovely in its own way and able to grow in hard stony soil.

Lately have been hooked on what readers have been calling "atmospheric" Historical Fiction like The Thirteenth Tale, and Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield; and also The Essex Serpent and Melmoth by Sarah Perry. I thought from the summary that this would also fall in that vein, but it is purely Historical Fiction. What is the difference? Right now I cannot tell you in words, but now I have this book for a contrast and compare, so I see an idea for a blog post blooming.

I was approved for an eARC, via Netgalley, in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Jan.
800 reviews252 followers
November 17, 2018
OMG I LOVED this book. Review to follow soon .... OK I couldn't wait any longer to shout about it - get it on your wishlist NOW.

Read my review in full on my blog

Anyone who knows me, even the tiniest bit, will know, as surely as I did the minute I saw the cover of this book, that it is exactly the kind of book I fall head over heels in love with.

And I did. For several reasons.

(1) I swooned when I saw the absolutely gorgeous cover art. I am loving the current trend for historical novels to have a rich tapestry of all-over design and this one is covered with a lavish illustration of the woven floral silks which wind their way through the story.

(2) it is highly recommended by one of my very favourite authors the sublimely talented Laura Purcell (If she told me I'd enjoy reading the labels on sauce bottles, you wouldn't be able to get in my kitchen for ketchup and pickles)

(3) It is set in England, Spitalfields, London to be precise, in the late 18th century - Mmmmm it's piqued my interest.

(4) it is peopled with strong, willful women, who are all utterly believable and their stories individually are compelling. When they begin to overlap and weave together, the chemistry ignites causing an explosive tale of betrayal, deceit, ambition and politics that had me reeling.

(5) It is a luscious, competent and exciting debut brimming with the promise of so much more to come, from this author, who is a wonderful discovery.

So, you will gather, I liked it! I hope you'll be intrigued enough to put this book on your 2019 wishlist, although it isn't due out until early in the New Year, it is most definitely one to wait with bated breath for.

I am writing my review now as I was one of the VERY lucky few to receive a copy in advance of publication and I want to share the love whilst my feelings aout it are still quite fresh.

So let me tell you a bit about it to whet your appetites:

It is the 1760s and we are in the city of London where Spitalfields, an area filled with merchants houses occupied by Huguenot weavers, jostles side by side with less wholesome neighbours, including brothels and pubs and a bustling marketplace.

Into this area arrives innocent young woman Sara, fresh from the countryside, smarting from what she sees as rejection by her Mother, just wanting someone to care for, brimming with hope for a new life and ready to seize any opportunity which comes her way.

But before the dust even settles she is "helped" by a wily old madam and inveigled into living and working at a notorious brothel.

Esther's life is very different, a respectable married woman living in one of the tall merchants houses with her Huguenot silk weaver husband, although her marriage lacks in love she hopes her husband will understand her desire to be involved in his world and reveals her ambition to be a designer of silks by showing him the delicate floral designs she has drawn. When he scorns and belittles her aspirations, she resolves to make her way despite him not because of him.

A foray into philanthropy sees Esther trying to help their less fortunate neighbours, and whilst distributing Bibles in the poorer quarters of Spitalfields she comes across Sara being bullied by her Madam and takes a chance on offering the girl employment as a maid.

Sara finds attending to the mercurial merchants' wife little less tiresome than lying down for a living, but she manages to make the best of what she's offered and a tentative friendship of sorts, begins between the two women.

But men, as they always do, disrupt the womens lives as they become embroiled in sinister and dastardly doings in the world of silk weaving and still Esther harbours her passion to create her own designs.

There is very much a sense of who is using whom and why. Everyone has ulterior motives, nobody is perfect and those with minor imperfections meet the deeply flawed head on as we are treated to a whirling and writhing tale of dishonesty, abandonment, determination and recklessness.

It follows therefore that I am urging you to read this book because I ADORED it and if you follow my blog and like similar books to those I enjoy you will love it. It is clever and cunning, literary without being preachy, lush and lavish and never prosaic and it lulls you into several senses of false security before leaving you reeling.


Profile Image for eyes.2c.
2,580 reviews66 followers
May 15, 2019
Silk and sedition!

A fascinating tale using as a backdrop the troubles faced by weavers in eighteenth-century Spitalfields, London, whose jobs are under threat as the market is flooded by cheap Indian calico.
Two woman are the catalysts for much that happens. Master weaver Elia Thorel's wife Esther Thorel, is a gifted painter who wants to be involved in her husband's work.
The other woman is Esther's maid Sara Kemp, a young woman who ended up in the hands of a heartless procurer, a older woman who preys upon innocent country girls at the Coaching stop. Esther effects a rescue of Sara, a rescue that will have devastating effects on her household.
At the same time Esther's stern unbending husband Elias, a Huguenot silk master has taken on sponsorship of a talented journeyman, Bisby Lambert, with the promise of helping him to become a master weaver.
The story takes a different turn for all involved when Bisby teaches Esther how to turn a particular painting, Blackberries and Wild Rose, into a pattern for the loom, and subsequently into a gorgeous silk piece. That this happens in secret in the attic where Elias has Bisby working gives the story a complex twist.
Elias is a pompous fellow who regrets going against his family's wishes to marry Esther. He has made her pay for that. A most dislike able man.
Meanwhile Bisby's fellow weavers are preaching sedition and rebellion, and as tempers rise, the outcome is made more shocking by treachery and deceit as Bisby's is unwittingly Vaughn up in their actions.
I found the novel complicated, with multiple threads weaving the action together. Threads that would become tangled knots as ambition and love vie with deceit and dishonesty.
The portrait of the times and the angst rings true. The characters however seem somewhat aloof despite all that is happening. What I found most intriguing is the story of the silk design, the regulations about who can do what and the work involved in manufacturing such a piece. I was quite devastated by the ending and yet given all that has gone on before, how could the story end otherwise?

A Blackstone ARC via NetGalley
Profile Image for Thebooktrail.
1,634 reviews297 followers
January 9, 2019
Blackberry and Wild Rose

Visit the locations in the novel

In BlackBerry and Wild Rose, Sonia Velton has written a gorgeous novel as smooth as the silks in the Spitalfields market she writes about. A plot as interweaving as the threads in the garments.

The novel is set deep in the heart of the Huguenot silk weavers of London’s East End. This was a evocative and interesting period of history and that comes across in leaps and bounds. A silk weaver’s wife rescues Sarah, the main character, from a life of working in a brothel so this chance could not be better and more timely.

The chance is not all good news however as once working for the silk weavers, Esther finds out a lot about the trade, the role of women in it and her chance of getting on in life. She is not afraid to voice her opinion on matter and the two women’s relationship is a series of ups and downs as a result.

Esther is a great character and a great voice with which to tell this story. She sees and hears everything. She has dream of becoming a silk designer herself but she is thwarted by those close to her. No one in the trade seems to want to help her illustrating the struggles for outsiders, women in particular, who want to work and make their own way.

It’s a fascinating look into the silk industry and the conditions they had to work under. There are struggles and a real sense that we are getting an insight into the political and social movements of the time as well.

The London of this era comes alive with vivid, layered descriptions, of time and setting. The issues here are as complex and as tightly woven as the fabrics. What happens when you pull a thread…you’re never sure where it’s going to end, but what you get is a long and twisty tale with many curls of intrigue along the way.

This wove a spell for me in many ways. Beguiling.
Profile Image for Dora  (Swift Coffee Book Blog).
130 reviews23 followers
January 5, 2019
Full review (available from 9th Jan, 2019): http://swiftcoffee.blog/2019/01/09/bl...

Have you ever simply loved a book BECAUSE you basically hated all the characters?

I know it sounds wrong. I should maybe say 'disliked' instead of 'hated'. Some I disliked strongly, some I even liked at times - but no character in this book was the kind of people I like.

And that's exactly what I loved about them!

Because they were... human. And humans act like they did. We are flawed, fallible, infuriating at times. People are the way these characters were written. They were realistic. Natural. I loved that they didn't act like characters in a book. They acted the way real people would do.

That being said, I honestly enjoyed this book. At first, at least part of the plot seemed to be too predictable, but I liked the way the story turned out in the second part of the book. The story, too, just like the characters, happened to be more realistic than I expected. It touched me. I also found the choice of time, place and topic interesting: I've never once given a thought to silk weavers of London in the 18th century before, but now I'm interested!

I also liked the way this book was written, it was nicely worded and many times beautiful, it made me feel things, the only thing I feel was not that good is that the difference between the styles of Esther and Sara, the two main characters (coming from very different places regarding both place and social situation) was non-existent. I thought they could write and speak very differently.

It's a strong historical debut that demonstrates the relations between men and women, rich and poor, master and worker, lady and servant. Thankfully it's not that black-and-white as it sounds - we get to see the 'grey areas', all the people caught up in different situations. Actually, I'm impressed how many kind of people's life and tragedies are shown in this book.
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603 reviews447 followers
December 5, 2019
Blackberry and Wild Rose had all the markings of a book that I would devour: an intriguing period of history I’m not familiar with, evocative prose recalling the scene perfectly, flawed characters... and while I did devour it, reading 400 pages in less than 24 hours, I still felt like something hadn’t quite worked upon finishing it.
I struggled to understand the motivations behind the two main characters’ actions most of the time. Sara is a servant, rescued from a horrendous mistress who was keeping her against her will as a prostitute, while Esther is the pious wife of a prestigious silk weaver, who brings Sara into her home as a lady’s maid. The relationship between the two is fraught with unease, and at one point I even thought there was a hint of sexual tension and I was hoping it was going to take a Sarah Waters-esque turn - but alas, it remained platonic, and a bit tedious after a while. The two are clearly at odds with one another, but Velton never really makes the relationship come alive off the page.
Thankfully, she makes up for this shortcoming elsewhere, as her depiction of the silk-weaving industry in 18th century Spitalfields is excellent. I loved learning about silk and its weavers, and Esther’s character felt more realistic when she was immersed in her passion of designing silk. Less convincing was her supposed passion for a certain someone, who says about three lines in the whole book and has the POTENTIAL to be a great love interest but never delivers.
I would say pick this one up if you’re a fan of historical fiction and feel like learning something new, and if you can figure out the two characters a bit more, please let me know. The chapters are very short and flit between the two women, so you eat up the pages in no time!
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