Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Emma's Review: The Silk Weaver's Wife by Debbie Rix

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

2017: Millie wants more from her relationship and more from her life. So when her boss Max abruptly ends their affair, she takes the opportunity to write a feature in Italy.

Staying in a gorgeous villa, Millie unexpectedly falls in love with the owner, Lorenzo. Together they begin to unravel an incredible story, threaded through generations of silk weavers. 

And Millie finds herself compelled to discover the identity of a mysterious woman in a portrait…

1704: Anastasia is desperate to escape her controlling and volatile father and plans to marry in secret. But instead of the life she has dreamed of, she finds herself trapped in Venice, the unwilling wife of a silk weaver.

Despite her circumstances, Anastasia is determined to change her fate…

Amazon link: Kindle 

I've read and really enjoyed the first two books published by Debbie Rix, Secrets of the Tower (now called The Girl with Emerald Eyesand Daughters of the Silk Road, and now she is back with her third story The Silk Weaver's Wife. I love how Debbie weaves historical facts into a fictional story while still having a modern day aspect in place as well. The dual narrative has worked very well for Debbie but in the case of this new book I felt the modern story set in the countryside of Verona, Italy, was not as strong as in previous books. That's not to say I didn't enjoy this story, I did, after a significant period of settling into the read, but the scenes set in the present day just didn't grip me as they had before in Debbie's previous books.

Told from two perspectives The Silk Weaver's Wife follows Anastasia ( Ana) in Italy in the early 1700's and Camilla (Millie) Caparelli in Italy in the present day. Normally in books of this nature with the two storylines running concurrently there would be an eventual connection between the characters. When all would be revealed I would feel a deep sense of satisfaction at the truth uncovered but here it just seemed too weak and all too obvious too early on. For certain Ana's story was far stronger than that of Millie's and I found myself more eager to return to Italy in the past rather than read about what was happening to Camilla. There was more depth and substance to Ana's story where as I felt the reader was very much an observer of Millie and there was a lack of excitement and thrill of uncovering past secrets that I normally love with books of this genre.

The Silk Weaver’s Wife is split into three distinct sections with their own sub headings – silken thread, metamorphosis and regeneration. To be honest as I,  was reading I didn't pay much heed to the section headings. It was only when I finished reading I realised how clever the author had been in separating the book into three parts and I understood then where she had wanted to take Ana as a character. I suppose when I stop and think about it the two main female characters even though separated by hundreds of years did have a connection and similarities in their lives but it was really Ana who I became more interested in reading about. It's not that I disliked Millie as a character it was more a case of her story didn't grab me early on and hold me in it's thrall as much as Ana's had.

Ana is the daughter of a silk weaver living in the Italian countryside near Verona. Her father rules the family with a firm fist and abusive words. Ana, her mother and sister Marietta live in a world of fear rather than comfort and happiness. Her father controls all aspects of their lives but Ana has one love she wishes to keep for herself and that is her love of painting and nature and in particular the finer detail of plants. Ana's also other deep love is for Marco, the son of a neighbouring farmer and she wants with all her heart to marry him but her father has other plans. Well it's more a case of his hand is forced due to circumstances, Ana is to be sent away to marry Anzolo Zorzi, a silk manufacturer living in Venice. What a horrible situation to be in. I felt Ana's desperation at the course of her life being taken out of her hands and I was cheering her on when she took matter's into her own hands but alas it was not to be.

The first half of the book I'll admit I found quite repetitive and difficult to get into. Ana is imprisoned more or less by the husband who was forced upon her and there was just endless descriptions of the days she spent incarcerated with nothing much happening. Yes I felt all her pain and upset but the story really did need to get going. Through one thing and another Ana escapes but what has occurred between the four walls of her prison has deeply affected her and she is not the same person who returns to the family farm. Ana knows now her fate is in her hands. I wanted Ana to escape the room because the story couldn't have gone on in the same vein it was going in due to nothing much happening but then on the other hand I was thinking where can the book go if she achieves freedom far too early on.

Thankfully this was only the focus of the first section of the book and the later two parts took the reader on Ana's journey which saw her undergo a transformation comparable to that of the silkworm which plays a dominant role in the story for various reasons. Ana has to do a lot of soul searching in order to find the outcome and answers she needs in order to accept fulfilment and true happiness. I enjoyed reading her story and her personal journey but behind it all I was hoping for a certain outcome and that she would make the right choice. She needed to get away from what had happened to her, to come to terms with it and then place it in the past before she could move forward in a positive way into the future. Ana's metamorphosis was a joy to read about but I hoped she would come to realise what was right before her eyes and as well as finding professional satisfaction, personal happiness would also follow.

Millie in some aspects was quite similar to Ana in some of the things they go through and in the fact she does go through a metamorphosis of sorts maybe to call it a realisation would be more apt. I don't think I gelled as well with Millie as I did Ana and that's partly because I really didn't like the situation she was in. I felt it was of her own making and I just despise people who do that to others. Millie works for a newspaper and she is commissioned to write about the Veneto region in Italy and their hopes to reinvigorate the silk industry which saw a rapid decline and then collapse. Hence the connection between the past and the present, that of silk. I did find all the descriptions of the silk industry and the process absolutely fascinating and also the descriptions of Italy, the food, the countryside, the architecture, the various cities and that's where Debbie Rix does excel in creating such vivid, wonderful, imagery in your head.

There were quite some dramatic scenes featuring Ana which I had such a clear image of that really brought the story alive. But what annoyed me about Millie was that for several years she had been in a relationship, one that wasn't good or beneficial for anyone for many reasons. I know it happens to lots of people day in and day out but I can't stand it and it gave me a picture of Millie that I really couldn't warm to. Yes I could sense she was beginning to see the wood for the trees and she felt soulless but she really should have known this from the start. Nothing good would ever come of the precarious situation she was in and I would have had far more respect for her if she had been more assertive and pushed someone very firmly to the kerb. The change she so badly needed was being given the opportunity to visit Italy and I hoped it would have the desired affect and basically make her wake up.

Millie stays in Villa Di Bozzolo with Lorenzo and Elena Manzoni. The brother and sister run a bed and breakfast along side their vineyard and also tend to the many mulberry trees which are needed to feed the silkworms. Lorenzo is a widower with a nine year old daughter Bella and over time and as she undertakes her research Millie becomes good friends with the Italians apart from Elena who maintains a distant and a cold persona and maybe she was right to. Whereas Ana had spirit, courage, strength and devotion I think Millie for the most part lacked these traits in full measure. I believe they were there waiting to emerge but she was entrenched in a situation she kept coming back to because she couldn't take the bull by the horns and just make a final decision. She was a prime example of her heart ruling over head when the opposite really needed to be the case. If Millie's story hadn't have been in The Silk Weaver's Wife I would have been perfectly happy with that. I get it was to show comparisons between the two main characters and to have the dual timeline but it didn't work for me and I wasn't engrossed in Millie's outcome. The element of surprise and searching back through the past just didn't come across as strong as it should have. Even if the beginning and closing chapters had just featured Millie that would have worked perfectly fine.

The Silk Weaver's daughter was a mixed bag for me. I was disappointed in the modern day story but as time went by I was enthralled and really understood Ana's side of the story. This was a good book but certainly not my favourite by the author but I having said that I will read what she writes in the future as I know judging on her first two books what a talented author she is.

Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my copy of The Silk Weaver' Wife to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

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