- Author Robyn Cadwallader
- Release Date November 5, 2019
- Publisher Fourth Estate
- ISBN/ASIN 9781460757970/B077MP6JM5
- Our Rating
- Reviewed by Michele Rioli
Life and all its coincidences is a tapestry woven together through time. In Robyn Cadwallader’s new novel BOOK OF COLOURS, life is complicated in the early fourteenth century as women are not permitted or recognized in many vocations. Gemma, wife of John Dancaster, helps out as a limner in his shop, the art of illuminating the margins of manuscripts. One day a man, William Ashe, enters their lives, showing his talents as an artist and is hired, although Gemma is hesitant. Their business has been commissioned by Lady Mathilda Fitzjohn to create a book of prayers, that showcases the family’s status and land acquisitions. Their lives are enriched by the countless hours spent illuminating the spectacular manuscript, that showcases fantastical art drawn within its margins. Life, personalities, figures and beautiful pigments all claim space within the pages of Lady Mathilda’s book of hours. But is it all worth it?
Life is cozy working at the Dancastor shop until the king in London imposes taxes to fund his wars. Then, revolts run rampant as attempts to control the dukedom and acquiring more land threatens their once tranquil lives. So, the lives of Will, Gemma and Lady Mathilda are inexplicably connected as the ravages of war, death, famine and sacrifice play out in vivid detail. What will happen to all of them?
BOOK OF COLORS is rife with tension, filled with sadness, burnished with history, infused with a kaleidoscope of colorful images that interweave into a spectacular tale about illuminating manuscripts and the lives it touches. Ms. Cadwallader expertly captures the atmosphere of early fourteenth century London as the story practically emanates smells like leather, sweat, burnt candles and such, which evoke images of that period. The story of Gemma and Will and the roles they play in the importance of creating a manuscript for a noble family, the Fitzjohns is downright incredulous! Incredibly, Gemma must hide her talents while working on it, since women are forbidden in certain fields. The story evolves as Will, Gemma, Mathilda and secondary characters each tell a story. The author prefaces each chapter with an extensive description of the art of illuminating and its many steps. What hardships they faced in the fourteenth century!
The lives, the loves and the history of illuminating is intricately woven together into a spectacular patchwork of plot, people and passion evoking artistic images of olden times and the rigors they suffered. Never have I read such a fascinating story of historical times, the demands on the human body enduring famine and war, and the interplay of words and descriptions, which evokes startling thoughts and images. There are many subplots, as Will is running away from something, but what? He is haunted by demons which adds an unique element to the story. Other surprises await the reader within the pages. I loved the author’s descriptive gift of stunning imagery which added dimension to an otherwise historical tale. BOOK OF COLOURS is fabulously told with an epic scope. Delightfully surprising, skillful and secretive!