Published by Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: October 2nd 2012
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Sometimes the past has the power to devour the future.
Sometimes, as the days grow shorter and more dreary, the only anecdote is a book that takes you far away and holds you there until the very last page. Ruins of Lace is just such a book. In the 1600s King Louis XIII banned the wearing of lace, making it the most desirable and dangerous commodity in the kingdom. The region of Flanders (in Belgium), right across the border, is well-known for its beautiful lace and is therefore a magnet for smugglers.
Author Iris Anthony takes history and, after doing extensive research, creates a compelling tale, using the viewpoint of seven very different characters. Each plays an important role in the story but their perspectives vary widely. Katharina is an orphan in Flanders who has been making lace at an abbey for the last 25 years. She is held in complete servitude and isolation and works knowing that
I could touch my lace but once and that was during the creation of it. The completion of each twist and cross meant the stitch was mine no longer.
Katharina knows no other life but is reaching the end of her usefulness as she is going blind. Her sister, Heilwich, works frantically to raise the money the nuns demand for her sister’s release, to compensate them for the years in which they “cared” for her. Lisette is a young girl of noble birth whose childish whim destroyed her family’s chance to prosper and, by the time the book begins, they are almost destitute. By damaging a lace cuff worn by another nobleman, that man is able to blackmail her father into paying an exorbitant sum to keep the family safe. Her cousin Alexandre vows to repay the debt and when the Count of Montreau ups the ante, he embarks on a dangerous journey to free the family once and for all.
By telling the story in the first person narrative, Anthony gives the reader unique insight into each character and reveals there is a common theme running through the book. In their own way, all seven, are suffused with feelings of loneliness and isolation, while trying to regain a sense of love and acceptance. For Alexandre, whose father was once a mighty soldier but lost everything, including human contact, when he contracted leprosy, he dreams
I just wanted someone to love me as I was. Regardless of anything I had done or failed to do. I wanted to know that at some time, at some point, I had been worthy of someone’s love.
As the story progresses and each character fights against the ties of fate that bind them, Anthony captures the complexity of their inner struggles. For Denis, a border guard whose sole function is to ferret out lace smugglers, he is ultimately faced with a choice that goes against all his training, forcing him to decide where his true beliefs lay.
I had done the right thing: I had done the wrong thing. But the right thing seemed so wrong, and the wrong thing had felt so right. There was no wide chasm between yes and no, between right and wrong. There was just a wide, vast plain and I did not know how I could live there, in the middle of it, without the absolute certainty offered by either side.
Ruins of Lace is a marvelous book of pure entertainment, with drama and well-paced action throughout, and even melodrama in small doses. Anthony’s creativity and knowledge of the subject and time period create intricate twists and turns and even a few improbable acts of fate but this is a book that fascinates until the end.