Camden's answer to Philippa Gregory

PUBLISHED: 11:45 19 June 2008 | UPDATED: 15:09 07 September 2010

IT S 1471. The Wars of The Roses are in full swing. As the Yorkist King Edward IV fights to regain his throne, another battle is raging in the household of John Lambert, a London silk-weaver. He has arranged advantageous marriages for his daughters, Jane

IT'S 1471. The Wars of The Roses are in full swing. As the Yorkist King Edward IV fights to regain his throne, another battle is raging in the household of John Lambert, a London silk-weaver. He has arranged advantageous marriages for his daughters, Jane and Isabel, but 14-year-old Isabel is horrified by her prospective husband, the lecherous son of a textile merchant.

Praying for deliverance in church, she's comforted by a stranger. A chance meeting that changes her life...

Figures In Silk is Camden author Vanora Bennett's second historical fiction. Her first, Portrait of an Unknown Woman, was longlisted for the Romantic Novelists' Association prize and there's romance a-plenty in this book too.

Although Isabel is a fictional character, Bennett has given her as a sister Jane Shore, the 15th century beauty and 'merry mistress' of Edward IV, and Isabel herself has an unexpected love affair with royalty.

But, as Isabel's stranger briskly tells her: "You mustn't think life is a romance" and the main theme of Figures in Silk is the pursuit of power. Intrigues divide the court as kings die and factions rise, while in London a dangerous plot to gain control of the silk trade will either bring great wealth and power to Isabel and her friends, or destroy them all.

Bennett is an engaging writer and, once the characters have been established, the plot moves swiftly. It's evident that she has researched the period, but she presents the historical detail with a lightness of touch that brings the silk-weavers and their trade vividly to life.

The characters are well-drawn, Jane Shore's undoubted beauty convincingly detailed, as is Edward IV's affable debauchery. What perhaps works less successfully is the central relationship between Isabel and the enigmatic stranger in the church. While their relationship is emotionally credible, the nuts and bolts of how they meet - and continue to meet - needs some suspension of disbelief.

But Bennett has created a gripping story and, in Isabel, a complex and interesting female lead whose stubborn pursuit of self-determination is cleverly juxtaposed with her sister's conventional feminine wiles. If you like historical fiction (with a dark romantic twist) you'll find Figures in Silk an enjoyable read.

Katie Masters

Figures in Silk is out now in hardback, price £14.99, published by HarperCollins.


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