As an avid reader of historical fiction, I love it when authors surprise me with little known facts about historical time periods rather than traversing down old, familiar historical paths. Iris Anthony blew my socks off with the historical setting for her new novel, The Ruins of Lace. In 1636, King Louis XIII outlawed lace and imposed heavy punishments for anyone found possessing it. Who knew? This novel concerns itself with characters whose lives are touched by this lace trade and offers an intriguing history lesson as well.
The Ruins of Lace is told from the point of view of several different characters who narrate alternating chapters. Katharina is a lace maker from Flanders who has spent nearly her entire life making lace by hand. As she ages, she loses her sight and faces the danger of being turned out of her home in the abbey. Those women who are turned out are absorbed into the population of fallen women of the city. Heilwich, Katharina’s sister, is determined not to let that happen. These two characters comprise one of the narrative arcs of the story. This narrative, quite honestly, was the one that I found the most compelling. The acts of sisterly love and devotion that Hielwich performed to try and rescue her sister were touching. Unfortunately, their story seemed to be overshadowed by the other major story plot. The sisters story seemed unfinished and without a resolution, as well.
The other plot involves a young man and the woman that he loves. The girl, Lisette, is forced to serve a count that is quite evil because she ruined lace as a child. The young man, Alexandre, tries to rescue her from this service, but he has issues of his own. His father was a leper, and he must try to rise above the stigma that his father suffered. The count’s son, a gender confused schemer, tries to get as much as he can from his father. He also tries to keep his inheritance, though his father seeks to have another child declared his heir. Sound confusing? It eventually all came together, but the alternating chapters were an impediment. It would have been much more cohesive had the entire story been told from one point of view.
Though I found the story compelling, I felt as though the story lost steam about three-quarters of the way through. I found the first half to be quite interesting, but as the characters began to meet each other, I felt as though the way the chapters were written was just a nuisance to wade through. In addition, I found the ending of the book to be ambiguous and a bit of a disappointment.
I cannot end my review without mentioning the chapters told from the point of view of the dog. Dogs were used to help in the smuggling of lace, and a quick Google search will explain exactly what the dogs were forced to do. The historian in me was fascinated, but the animal lover in me was completely disgusted. I think the dog was the most complete character in the novel. But, these chapters were very distressing to read.
The Ruins of Lace had some serious potential. I cannot say that I did not enjoy the book, but the confusing points of view and the rushed ending took some of the pleasure out of reading. Having said that, the history lesson, as well as some of the characterization, was well done, and I would take a chance on another Iris Anthony novel.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina