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Book of Colours

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  369 ratings  ·  83 reviews
From Robyn Cadwallader, author of the internationally acclaimed novel The Anchoress, comes a deeply profound and moving novel of the importance of creativity and the power of connection, told through the story of the commissioning of a gorgeously decorated medieval manuscript, a Book of Hours.

London, 1321: In a small stationer's shop in Paternoster Row, three p
Paperback, 368 pages
Published April 23rd 2018 by HarperCollins - AU
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To own a book, especially a beautifully illuminated Book of Hours was a sign of wealth and prestige in the 14th Century. This very engaging novel is about the making of such a book by John Dancaster,a London illuminator (or limner) and his atelier. His wife Gemma, herself a skilled limner, newly apprenticed son Nick and his senior apprentice Benedict all assist in either the making of the colours, drawing the decorations or the elaborate task of layering on the colours and gold leaf when require ...more
Book of Colours, a beautifully written, multi-layered historical fction, set in early 1300s England was a five star read for me.

There are three connecting story lines:
The family of limners and their workers/apprentices are preparing an illuminated book for a noble lady;
Mathilda, the noble lady has commissioned the book; and
Gemma, the wife of the head limner is preparing an book of her own as an instruction in the art of illumination.

I enjoyed the style of writing, which is poetic
Carol -  Reading Writing and Riesling
May 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: aww, own
My View:
A fantastic read that has a Dickenson like bleakness juxtaposed against the passion and the colour of the limners for their craft; a black/grey existence versus illumination and colour, creativity, life.

In depth research, locations that leap of the page, characters and their circumstances that will touch your heart, this is a great read.

And there is a bonus for all art lovers/creators – each chapter is prefaced with a paragraph or two from a book that one of the character is writ
I really love a good historical novel but often hesitate picking one up because they can be hit and miss for me. To make it a great read, the author not only needs to be well informed about the era, but also have the skills of creating vivid characters and an atmospheric setting to facilitate the perfect time travel experience. Not an easy task (and I am not picky at all – lol)! I am happy to say that Robyn Cadwallader has those superpowers, which made this book a wonderful reading experience, a ...more
Jennifer (JC-S)
‘If you touch the page, it’s smooth and fine.’

In fourteenth-century England, books are rare and treasured items. They are often symbols of wealth and status: who else (apart from wealthy nobles and the church) could afford to commission a book? In London in 1321, during a rebellion against Edward II and his hated favourite Hugh Despenser, work is scarce. In John Dancaster’s small shop on Paternoster Row, a small group of people are drawn together to illustrate a Book of Hours for Lad
Theresa Smith
Jul 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“…let all of life be there in the book, from high to low, animal and monster, story and joke, devotion and dance, for God the Great Artisan made it all.”

Book of Colours by Robyn Cadwallader has been widely reviewed by Australian Women Writers Challenge participants since its release in April of this year, and as it fits into the historical fiction category, my editorial area, I’ve had the privilege of reading all of these glowing reviews. I was determined to read this novel, sooner r
Lily Malone
Jan 23, 2019 rated it liked it
It has taken me so long to finish this book! Part of that was Christmas holidays/end of year/holiday plans etc, but the real reason is: I never felt particularly invested in this story, unfortunately. I was determined to read it to the end because the writing style is lovely, and because I know it's a very good book (lots of people say so), but at no stage did it give me a sense of 'can't put it down'. I could put it down very easily. Too easily.
There wasn't enough going on in the plot for
I'm gonna flick this back to my 'Want to read' list as well as give it a DNF mention at 20% because I'm finding it just too dull and complicated to be entertaining enough to read on my phone.

It seems like there's a decent story lurking in it's pages and I AM really keen to read it, but the e-book format is just not going to work for me here. So I'm benching it til I pick up a physical copy.

Thanks to Netgalley for the opportunity, but sorry it didn't work out!
Robert Lukins
May 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully detailed prose; fascinating sense of time's complexities; good gravy, I loved it.
Bettina Partridge
Sep 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel
I cannot put words around how much I loved this book.

It's rare for me to read fiction and I had long given up on the commercial historical fiction writers popular today who just tag characters into a period of history or in the sphere of someone who is historically significant. It's also been a damn long time since I couldn't put a book (or my Kindle) down and been dragging myself through life because I am reading when I should be sleeping.

The Book of Colours is a masterclass in how
Tracey Allen at Carpe Librum
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Book of Colours is an historical fiction novel by Australian author Robyn Cadwallader and is set in London's Paternoster Row in the 1320s. A noblewoman has commissioned the creation of a book of hours - a decorated medieval manuscript - and the novel is about the stationer's shop lucky enough to secure the valuable commission and the people who illuminate the pages.

This book was right up my alley as I've always been fascinated by illuminated manuscripts and amazed when precious documents li
“Let all of life be there in the book”

BOOK OF COLOURS by Australian author Robyn Cadwallader is set in medieval London and covers the fascinating history of some of the first book makers. Back then they were called “illuminators” or “limners” and books were beautifully illustrated prayer books. Not much is known about the limners of this time, but Cadwallader has combined a great deal of historical research and imagination to tell the story of the creation one of these intricate pray
Jun 04, 2018 rated it liked it
3 1/2 stars. There is a great deal of attention to the descriptions of how limners carried out their work as illuminators of manuscripts in this novel and it certainly provided an interesting insight into a fascinating world. However I think the pace was quite slow and the plot did not reveal as much as I would have hoped. Gemma and Lady Mathilda both seemed a little underwhelming and I actually felt the male characters were more interesting.
Kali Napier
May 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The moment a gargoyle slithered and clinked into this story early on, I knew I would love it. Book of Colours is about a book within a book within a book, just as women in the medieval period were expected to look on the Holy stories of Mary as instruction for how to behave, and a woman's story of sacrifice and shame, colours and reshapes Mary's story, reflecting Lady Mathilda's circumstances.
Lady Mathilda is the noblewoman who has commissioned a Book of Hours from Master Dancaster's limner wor
Nov 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Historical fiction is my genre and I get pleasure from even the mediocre within it. Which means when I hit really excellent historical fiction, it just pure happy place all the way - and this is absolutely historical fiction at the top of its game. Cadwallader uses a single workshop to explore a pivotal moment in evolving feudalism, looking at the role of women; of craft guilds; of sexuality and corruption; of class and urban/rural tensions. Ahe does this through the lens of sharply drawn, sympa ...more
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a book to be savoured. The writing does justice to the illuminated manuscripts that form the framework for the story. The structure works brilliantly. Each chapter beginning with a lengthy quote from the instruction manual being written by Gemma for her apprentice son focuses the reader on not only the painstaking technical process of illumination, but the messages the artist wishes to convey, the role played by light in the telling and the cost of the message. This provides a context an ...more
Elizabeth Morgan
It took me until about half way through to realise that my problem with this book is not me being a medievalist who can't overlook anachronisms (although that is TOTALLY true), but that this book is really just quite average. (The 'it not me, it you' defence).

The book follows the lives of a few people as they are touched by the creation of an illuminated Book of Hours, each of them coming with baggage (as people do) and, through their experience with the book, coming to a resolution.
Wendy Dunn
Oct 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A lovely story!
Jun 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Lisa by: Sue Terry and Amanda Curtin
I love all things to do with the art of illumination. I am the one in art galleries all over Europe and the UK giving the staff conniptions because I am up so close peering at the exquisite tiny paintings that decorate medieval Bibles and Books of Hours and other illuminated manuscripts. I was in heaven when the State Library of Victoria put on an exhibition called The Medieval Imagination and yes, I bought the book to appease my hankering to #InMyDreams own one of these illuminations of my very ...more
Book of Colours is an absorbing historical fiction which describes the creation of a Book of Hours as it might have occurred in the 14th Century. Most of the main characters are Illuminators (known as limnist) whose role was to embellish the calligraphy with decorative colourful borders and create designs that would enhance and further the understanding of the prayers and other sacred texts. Lady Mathilda and her husband Robert are important patrons as they have the means to commission the creat ...more
Sharon Jarvis
Jul 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley-ebook
An incredibly rich historical novel which was beautifully written and brought the period of 14th Century London to life. The characters brought the story to life - the story of the creation of an illuminated Book of Colours - and the story unfolds.

Thank you to Netgalley and publisher HarperCollins Australia for a copy to read and review.
Bronwen Stead
Jul 02, 2018 rated it liked it
This book took me a while to settle into the prose style and to be honest I find time and perspective hopping styles a bit frustrating. But after a few chapters I settled in and the story was quite enjoyable and the different perspectives added depth to an enjoyable narrative about the complexities of people and interpersonal dynamics, and the at times torturous nature of having a creative pursuit
Aug 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-books
This was such a different (and thoroughly welcome) take on the 'bookish book' and while I understand that some readers have said it was slow (it is) I think the slowness of the arc tells a story all of its own.

This is a story about how books were created in the 14th century, the artisans (called 'limners', essentially short for illuminators) that devoted their lives to the craft and the significance of actually owning a book, what that meant in medieval times. A lady of the gentry, L
Karen Parisot
Nov 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
When Lady Mathilda commissions a book of hours, she gives John Dancaster, master illuminator, and his small shop some much needed work. Times are tough and jobs have been scarce. It’s a big project and he needs to hire an additional man. Despite the misgivings of his wife, Gemma, he takes a chance on an unknown man, Will Asshe, a recent arrival in London.
This is a beautifully written historical fiction novel. Robyn Cadwallader’s prose is sublime. The story takes place in early fourteenth centur
Sep 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
I’ve given this book 4 stars as an average. For the plot and story line I’d give it 3 as for me the story was not a page turner, but for the writing style and detailed research into the work of Limnars in the 1300s I’d give 5 stars, so, an average of 4 seems fair.
Lady Mathilda has ordered a Book of Hours (prayers) from a reputable Limnar. The story involves the characters in that artisan studio along with the dos and dont’s of life in the 1320s in England. Some politics around King Edward
Anne Fenn
Sep 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A fabulous read. Full of history about 1320s London and elsewhere in the England. Each chapter starts with brief information from the times about different aspects of skills and materials used in producing a mediaeval Book of Hours. The plot is very entertaining with depth of character and dramatic events. I liked the author's novel 'The Anchoress', also set in mediaeval times, but this one with its broader sweep of story is even better. In Further Reading at the end of the book, the author prov ...more
Apr 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a very good book. It took me a little while to get my bearings regarding the time in which it was set. I'm not really big on the history of this time. But it is a really good historical novel painting a great picture of London at that time.

It also explores what happens to those people struggling against straitjacketing and oppression. The female characters are strong and believable in their attempt to navigate their way through a world that is inflexible in the place it has t
Rachael McDiarmid
Jul 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
3.75 Stars really. While I found the book a little slow, I was also fascinated by the art of illuminated manuscripts and the lives of limners in medieval England. I enjoyed the history and the characters but would have liked to delve more into the back stories, particularly Will’s Cambridge years and have a more definitive ending. I don’t think I got closure as such with how it was left. But for someone who has spent nearly three decades in the publishing industry and a love of medieval history, ...more
Ann T
Nov 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Thank you Harper Collins Australia and Netgalley for an ARC in return for my honest opinion.

I loved this book, I don’t often read historical fiction but when I find a book this wonderful I ask myself why.
This book is beautifully written, it drew me in with fabulous discriptions and the three intertwining stories. I highly recommend curling up with your favourite drink and loosing yourself in this wonderful story.
Alan  Marr
Jan 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
A little slow paced but so cleverly put together. There were several strands to the story that were woven together. I learned a great deal about the role of the limner. I found the characters believable for the most part. It was a book of sensuality and deep spirituality.
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Robyn Cadwallader has spent much time and energy teaching creative writing and all kinds of English literature at university, with a special interest in medieval literature. She writes poems and short stories, and her novel The Anchoress won the Varuna LitLink NSW Byron Bay Unpublished Manuscript Award in 2010. Her PhD thesis about female virginity and agency, Three Methods for Reading the Thirteenth-Centu ...more
“Melancholy is slower, harder to discern than fever, but I’ve seen men die of less than this.” 0 likes
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