Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Silk Weaver's Daughter by Elizabeth Kales

Pierre Garneau is a skilled silk weaver in late 17th Century France. He and his family are also Huguenots, which in a predominantly Catholic country make them targets for persecution and prejudice. Up until the Autumn of 1685, the French Huguenots have been protected by the Edict of Nantes, but Louis XIV intends to revoke that law and persecute the country’s non-catholic population to the full.

Pierre decides he must take his family to safety, among them is sixteen-year-old Louise, who is in love with her cousin, Marc, a Catholic.  However Marc and his father spend most of their time abroad as merchants and Pierre hopes he will be able to get Louise out from beneath Marc’s influence when they arrive in England.

The plan, dangerous and tense in places, resulting in an injury to one of their sons on the journey, but the family arrive in Spitalfields safely, where their wealth allows them to rise above the usual émigré status, buy a house with the help of a former émigré, Paul Thibault, and set up their business as silk weavers.

However, Pierre's protection of his eldest daughter comes a little too late as Louise arrives in England already pregnant. To save her own reputation and that of her family, and with March in India for at least two years, the Garneaus convince Louise her only salvation would be to marry Paul Thibault.

Apprehensive at first, Louise finds Paul to be a kind and loving husband willing to accept baby Alice as his own child. The only thing which mars their near perfect marriage is when Marc arrives in London, and Paul discovers he is the child’s father and not a Catholic Dragoon having violated Louise as Pierre would have him believe.

Louise, however no longer yearns for Marc and loves her devoted husband, but life is not always so straightforward and Paul Thibault has enemies determined to ruin his life, and before long, Paul finds himself in gaol.

Louise must find a way to repay his loving kindness and prove her husband’s innocence. Will Marc help her, or does he still resent her marrying another man and bearing him a second child?

Elizabeth Kales is the 6th granddaughter of the Silk Weaver, Pierre Garneau himself and I envy her the task of researching the man’s life knowing he was an ancestor.  The story moves between France, London and India, with good pace, so just when you think it is slowing down and the characters settling into a quiet life, something happens to get you worrying about them all over again.  The historical background of the London Huguenots adds a fascinating dimension as the characters grapple with the events of the times.  An enjoyable story with a satisfactory conclusion, and well worth a sequel to discover where they go from here.