A substantial historical novel set in turbulent 15th-century England, when Richard, Duke of Gloucester, aspired to the throne.
John Lambert, a silk merchant who’s not as rich or prominent as he would like to be, has his heart set on getting his two daughters, Jane and Isabel, married off to improve the fortunes of his family, but the course of their loves does not run as smoothly as he’d hoped. Jane’s husband refuses to consummate the marriage, and she becomes one of the mistresses (the “merry” one) of Edward IV. Meanwhile, her sister believes she’s made a good marriage to Thomas Claver, scion of a family prominent in the silk industry, but after his unexpected death Isabel finds out she’s destitute, for Thomas was not overly scrupulous in his spending habits. Isabel faces a few grim prospects: returning to her father or apprenticing herself to her mother-in-law, the formidable Alice Claver. Isabel chooses the latter option, and her diligence and astuteness serve her well. She proposes “importing” some Italians and setting up a more efficient silk business in the heart of London. She doesn’t simply become a canny businesswoman, however, but also becomes romantically entangled with the handsome and charming Dickon…who turns out to be Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Things get thick indeed after Edward dies and Richard claims the throne. In one nostalgic scene Isabel recalls that Dickon taught her how to play chess, disarmingly (and ironically) stating that “the aim of the game is to kill the king.” This casual observation becomes the political reality of the narrative.
Ably explores themes of romance and politics.