on 11 November 2013
It was not only beautifully written and researched, but the story and characters were addictive. The setting became alive in my mind through her beautiful descriptions, that had the right amount of details to make you feel the period without drowning you in information on the period. The characters were so real that I felt every single emotion the heroine felt, and even shed tears at some point. The way the author pictured the atmosphere and feelings of the time made the reader empathise with all the victims of the fire in London and it has been haunting me ever since. I was gripped by the hardships the heroine lived through and the excitement in the story. And then of course, there was the heartbreaking and uplifting love story that kept my heartbeat racing until the end.
This story hinges around the Great Fire of London in 1666. The devastation over several days wrecks the family life and prospects of a young wife, Mistress Kate Finche.
Kate's dowry and her new family's fortune had been invested in spices from the east, and the riverside warehouse is destroyed. I would have liked to see more about the spice trade but as it is, the ruined husband has to work as a clerk, then gets taken on by a land speculator and builder.
The story then shows the gradual redevelopment of the city over the next couple of years. The builder is one of those corner-cutting, fast-coin making builders we all love to hate. Based on a personality of the times, Hackett is also unpleasant and unscrupulous in his personal life. When Kate is unexpectedly widowed, Hackett makes her an offer she wants to refuse. She ends up hiding from him in the House of Perfume, which had been untouched by the blaze, where a blind perfumier and his wife and son give her shelter. She's still in peril though, for more than one reason.
I enjoyed the storytelling and historical details. Sadly the author notes that she had to cut out a lot - which I probably would have enjoyed reading - to make the story flow faster. The Great Fire and its causes are well described, with a mention of plague in the city beforehand. The debtors' prison is indeed an awful place and sounds like other mentions of it which I have read. Unable to earn to pay their debts, the imprisoned were dependent on their families to pay their creditors. Perfume was popular (along with pomanders and nosegays of flowers) because people did not wash.
If you enjoy a historical romance with strong characters and a vibrant background, give THE SPICE MERCHANT'S WIFE a try. You'll like it and learn a lot.
on 17 August 2013
London during and after the Great Fire is the setting for this third novel by Charlotte Betts, and to my mind her best to date. We are taken into the home of the wealthy spice merchant's wife's family, with their fine furnishings, lustrous materials and servants. But when the Great Fire destroys not only the spice merchant's home but his warehouse, and the family watches their wealth go up in smoke, like so many thousands of Londoners they are, at a stroke, destitute. The story that follows - for the Great Fire is but the beginning - is totally believable and extremely well written, with descriptions of everything from everyday life in Restoration kitchens and boudoirs, to the underhand and extremely dangerous pursuits of some of the speculative builders of the time. Add murder to the story, and you have suspense. Of perfume, perhaps the strongest element of this story, I shall say not one word. I'd not want to spoil it for you. I do hope that Charlotte Betts remains in Restoration England for her next novel, perhaps even to continue the story of the spice merchant's wife. One of the best books I have read this year, without a shadow of a doubt. I use the word "shadow" advisedly. Read the book and you will find out why.
on 1 October 2013
Loved this, made me cry in parts but the story line is very good. Loveable characters and loathsome characters, fantastic read.
on 19 January 2014
This is a very enjoyable novel that bowls along nicely. There's a great sense of place, and the descriptions of events like the great fire and the area itself are very evocative. Although I rarely use 'feisty', it certainly applies to the heroine, Kate, whose fortunes change hugely during the story. The narrative created a continual visual story in my mind, which is always a good sign and made the book a success for me.
There are two reasons why I didn't feel I could give this book five stars. The first is that the main baddie was 100% bad. This did make him frightening for the reader but usually I prefer there to be a spark of humanity somewhere to leave just a little ambiguity. The other reason is that, somehow, I could never quite visualise the hero, and I don't think this was due to his disability. I could 'see' his clothing but couldn't get his actual voice or his way of expressing himself with, say, hand gestures, and this made it hard to love him even though he, interestingly, seemed to be 100% good! The two extremes.
Anyway, The Spice Merchant's Wife was a very good read and I would certainly recommend it as a story with plenty of action as well as changes of pace.
on 5 January 2014
The Spice Merchant's wife follows the life of character Kate Finche. Coming through a cruel upbringing, she finally feels that her luck has changed when she meets her husband, Robert, and settles down to married life. However, the Great Fire of London sees their business and home consumed by flames and they are forced to find alternative jobs and a new home. Robert's new employer isn't all he appears though, and troubles lie ahead.
Simmering in the background is Kate's friendship with blind perfumer Gabriel Harte and his family, who take her under their wing.
Rich in historical detail, I really enjoyed the depiction of life during and after The Great Fire. Gabriel Harte's character was intriguing, and although the outcome of the story was fairly easy to guess, it was an entertaining read to reach it.
on 29 January 2014
‘London August 1066’, and, ‘The summer had been swelteringly hot with barely any rain to wash away the dust and stench and I was not alone in wishing it to end.’ Not only is this a well-pitched first sentence, perfect in its simplicity but it draws the reader into this particular time and into this busy, commercial city alongside its protagonist Katherine whose story we follow closely as she faces trauma, extreme danger and falls in love. It is followed with ‘The city was hot and dry as a tinderbox and all anyone could do was to find a shady place to sit very still.’ Excellent first paragraph and I am there, hooked.
Katherine’s husband is a wealthy spice-merchant, their marriage arranged, her inheritance plundered by a greedy aunt. Although clearly unsuited, the couple are determined to make the best of things. As the story opens Katherine is looking forward to Robert’s return from a long voyage and to moving out of her in-laws home into one of their own. However, the fire sweeps through the city and puts an end to her hopes and aspirations. Everything, including their warehouse that is ‘stacked to the gunnels’, is lost. The family are utterly down on their fortunes. Debts cannot be paid, prison threatens, and, as London begins to recover, work is hard to find and the city is lawless. The narrative moves with as many twists and turns as the dark London lanes that is its landscape. Enter a rogue builder and the narrative’s thriller element follows. The plot turns on Katherine’s attempts to expose Mr Hackett the builder who is out to ruthlessly deceive and make his fortune out of Christopher Wren’s new plans for the city.
Will Katherine survive as this man determines to destroy her future? She does have a potential saviour, of course, in Gabrielle Harte, the perfume maker. Along with his wife, Jane, he befriends Katherine in a relationship that, as the story evolves, becomes a little reminiscent of Jane Eyre. The characters are all very well drawn, the in laws, husband Robert, Gabrielle and the hideous, evil Hackett who could even be one of Dickens’ meanest 19th C constructions and Jane who becomes Katherine’s close friend which presents yet another dilemma.
The narrative is written in first person past tense which brought me particularly close to Katherine. I stood in her shoes, saw others through her eyes and travelled London’s streets smelling and seeing as she did. The sights and sounds are there lurking about Fish Hill, Thames Street, Mincing Lane, Lombard Street and the wharves. There are link boys lighting the dim thoroughfares, swaying coaches, smells such as rotting fish, mud and rubbish and a dreadful cellar with a suspicious stink. I was especially party to Katherine’s emotions and wanted her not to make mistakes as she navigated this landscape. Most of all I wanted her to find happiness and, since Ms Betts presents her readers with a deal of jeopardy threatening this possible outcome, the novel is extremely engaging.
on 16 September 2013
I bought The Spice Merchant's Wife after reading The Apothecary's Daughter (also by Charlotte Betts). The research put into these books is phenomenal and really brings the streets of bygone London to life. Throughout the duration of this book, I laughed and cried, but most of all I fell in love with both Mistress Finche and Mr Harte.
on 26 February 2014
A book that once started cannot be put down. Felt total empathy with the characters and their plight. Beautifully written and researched. Highly recommend this book.
on 13 February 2014
Well written and captivating. I have since gone on to read her other books and found them equally well written.