Laker, expert at portraying professions dealing in luxury items (Banners of Silk, Jewelled Path, Tree of Gold, etc.) turns her hand--and that of her beleagured heroine, Hester Bateman--to silversmithing in 18th-century England. When her mother dies, Hester, 12, is packed off to a London tavern to live with her innkeeper brother and his parched wife, Martha; five years later, the lonely and mistreated Hester, a gifted watercolorist, turns to John Bateman, an apprentice goldsmith who, as fate would have it, is betrothed to his master's daughter, Lust rages so strong between Hester and John, however, that naught else matters, and soon Hester is pregnant, John ousted from his workshop, and a new shop--as well as a new family--is born. And both are destined for fame and fortune: eventually, most of Hester's six children become expert craftsmen, and so, in fact, does Hester, who plies herself to the silver side of the trade (""Daily Hester became more fascinated with silver; its marvellous malleability after only a gentle heating to release the compressed crystals that made up the metal. . .never ceased to fill her with wonder. . .""). By the time of John's death, the Bateman name is top-of-the-line, due largely to Hester's talent. A headstrong, silversmithy daughter-in-law proves a challenge; a mad one occupies the attentions of two of Hester's sons; and the other progeny make do with less dramatic lives (and plenty of toil by the bench) as the century is pounded to a close. Dense, textured, companionable--a rich if not wondrously exciting volume.