In Eighteenth Century London, Porcelain Is The Most Seductive Of Commodities Fortunes Are Made And Lost Upon It Kings Do Battle With Knights And Knaves For Possession Of The Finest Pieces And The Secrets Of Their ManufactureFor Genevieve Planch , An English Born Descendant Of Huguenot Refugees, Porcelain Holds Far Less Allure She Wants To Be An Artist, A Painter Of International Repute, But Nobody Takes The Idea Of A Female Artist Seriously In London If Only She Could Reach Venice When Genevieve Meets The Charming Sir Gabriel Courtenay, He Offers Her An Opportunity She Can T Refuse If She Learns The Secrets Of Porcelain, He Will Send Her To Venice But In Particular, She Must Learn The Secrets Of The Colour Blue The Ensuing Events Take Genevieve Deep Into England S Emerging Industrial Heartlands, Where Not Only Does She Learn About Porcelain, But Also About The Art Of Industrial Espionage With The Heart And Spirit Of Her Huguenot Ancestors, Genevieve Faces Her Challenges Head On, But How Much Is She Willing To Suffer In Pursuit And Protection Of The Colour Blue Genevieve makes for a feisty, resourceful and independent minded heroine Finding her ambition to be an artist thwarted by her lack of independent means, her gender and the prejudices of the time, she unwillingly enters into a bargain that will see her come up against an equally resourceful but entirely unscrupulous adversary Genevieve will soon discover that, when it comes to the search for the secret to creating something new and unique in the world of porcelain, there are men and women who will stop at nothing.It s not long before Genevieve is well and truly out of her depth, uncertain who she can trust and risking not just her own life but the safety of those close to her Not only that, but she discovers her actions may jeopardise her faith, even the country of her birth Along the way, Genevieve and the reader gain fascinating insights into the history of porcelain and why, for some, it has become not just a money making opportunity but an obsession.Genevieve s adventures are book ended cleverly by her attendance at two very different social gatherings, the last of which results in her rescue from the sticky situation in which she finds herself courtesy of a particularly unlikely source.The Blue is full of twists and turns, intrigue and unexpected revelations It s a skilfully told story that positively races along, making for an engaging, colourful and compelling read. England and France were embroiled in war on many fronts in 1758 The Seven Years War was raging French, God fearing Huguenots continued to seek refuge in England Political and religious unrest produced fertile ground for spying Ask Sir Gabriel Courtenay, a most unscrupulous nobleman Sir Gabriel made Genevieve Planche an offer she couldn t refuse.Genevieve was a third generation descendant from a line of French Huguenot refugees She lived with her grandfather, Pierre Billiou, in Spitalfields,London Pierre discouraged Gen s interest in oil painting since women were barred from the Royal Academy No lady of a good family could take art lessons It seemed unlikely that Gen would be apprenticed to a great artist in order to learn proper technique and composition Approached by Sir Gabriel, she was offered a path to Venice, an enlightened city, where she might find a master painter to help her achieve her dream.Pressured by her grandfather, Gen had accepted a so called coveted position at Derby Porcelain Works The job entailed painting designs on porcelain vases, plates and sculptures Gen felt she would be sent away to be trapped in a Derby manufactory condemned to decorate the objects of the rich and frivolous With this position, Sir Gabriel informed Gen that she would be ideally placed to learn the secret formula for a blue the world has not seen beforea different way of seeing blue Who is the elusive chemist who has created this blue While Gen tries to locate the secret formula, her every move is being watched Is Derby Porcelain Works secure Could Gen be perceived as a French spy If so, would a porcelain company in Sevres, France reap the rewards from ill gotten gains What if Genevieve wants to extricate herself from the fact finding quest for the chemist and the sought after blue Questioning the morality of this operation, the possibility of imprisonment for criminality and casting aside the possibility of true love, Gen finds herself at a crossroads What path will she choose The Blue by Nancy Bilyeau is a riveting novel of historical fiction Bilyeau has thoroughly researched the art of porcelain making and the importance of the color blue to artists of 18th Century England and France The issues faced by French Huguenots living in England are discussed The detailed character development of Genevieve Planche and the many other primary and secondary players was spot on One s moral compass could arguably be at odds with greed or obsession while trying to achieve financial or artistic success I found The Blue by Nancy Bilyeau to be an amazing historical read that was replete with crime and intrigue.Thank you to The Pigeonhole for your serialized ARC I thoroughly enjoyed this presentation of The Blue Thank you to Endeavor Quill Publishers and Nancy Bilyeau I felt totally immersed in life at the Derby Porcelain Works through the first person narrative of Genevieve Planche Thank you for the opportunity to read The Blue in exchange for an honest review. Outstanding In eighteenth century London, porcelain is the most seductive of commodities fortunes are made and lost upon it Kings do battle with knights and knaves for possession of the finest pieces and the secrets of their manufacture.For Genevieve Planch , an English born descendant of Huguenot refugees, porcelain holds far less allure she wants to be an artist, a painter of international repute, but nobody takes the idea of a female artist seriously in London If only she could reach Venice When Genevieve meets the charming Sir Gabriel Courtenay, he offers her an opportunity she can t refuse if she learns the secrets of porcelain, he will send her to Venice But in particular, she must learn the secrets of the colour blue The ensuing events take Genevieve deep into England s emerging industrial heartlands, where not only does she learn about porcelain, but also about the art of industrial espionage With the heart and spirit of her Huguenot ancestors, Genevieve faces her challenges head on, but how much is she willing to suffer in pursuit and protection of the colour blue Nancy Bilyeau s poised and polished writing style brings the 18th century to life Her word usage and grammar structure really bring the characters to life and let you feel as if you are there in Genevieve s head Stunningly descriptive and gorgeously written you can not only see the China patterns but smell the paint on the porcelain I thoroughly enjoyed this read I thought that the story was well written and well thought out I thought that the descriptive powers used by the author were just utterly amazing It s been a long time since I ve read a book by an author who can write in this manner Although I didn t read the other books in the series I did not feel as though I was lost The story just jumps right in and carries you away Brilliant I would definitely recommend this book to everyone as I enjoyed it so much I would especially recommend this to anyone who likes historical fiction and strong female characters. A fascinating blend of religious strife, industrial espionage, court politics, and heady romance not to mention the mesmerizing, cutthroat maneuvering behind the 18th century porcelain trade The heroine is delightful, and the villain fascinating Definitely a winner Ok guys, I m not going to beat around the bush about The Blue this is simply the best historical novel I have read this year I had already devoured and enjoyed three books by Nancy Bilyeau, set under the Tudors The Blue surpasses them all.A superb combination of plot and research, rich characters, suspenseful scenes, a smart ending The Blue reveals the perfect formula for a historical mystery focused on industrial espionage in 18th century England Will definitely be in your list of best of the year books.My full review is here I have read all historical fiction written by this author I left no notes on my previous reads, so I will try to serve myself better with reminders of what I liked about this stand alone book exploring the world of porcelain during reign of Louis XV Our narrator is a young unmarried woman who was endowed with modern day determination and rebellion, so that always gives me pause in reading historical fiction Nevertheless, she carried us through the changing landscape however implausible much of the campaign was.She kicks off the book by stealing her grandfather s invitation to a society gathering where she might endear herself to a famous artist of the day but is only saved from complete humiliation by one unscrupulous man with motives of his own Soon under his spell with promises of a future in Venice where she might be free to be an artist, she is forced into role of spy to discover formula for creating blue pigment that will adhere to porcelain.It s the kind of thing you can t put down, because you can only anticipate the worst things that could happen to a young woman outside the protection of her Huguenot grandfather Yup, it s a page turner and thus quite enjoyable. Fast paced action, passionate emotions, international intrigue and life or death stakes propel the reader through this outstanding historical thriller set in 18th century London, Derby and France Bilyeau depicts the world of 1758 with gorgeous detail She immerses the reader, whether in the rough streets of London s Spitalfields district where the refugee Huguenot silk weavers ply their trade or in the newly opened British Museum where the aristocrats are as much on display as this collection of drawings and maps and mummified creatures from around the world Bilyeau layers on sensory experiences to draw her reader in A fire crackles in the tall fireplace Yet a damp cloud smell of human sweat hovers over this crowd, mingling with the musk oil many men use to conceal their odor unsuccessfully and the tobacco smoke and the holly branches heaped around the pink punchbowl, in sole deference to Christmas a fortnight away This deep historical immersion arises organically from the characters and needs of the action, thus never slowing the riveting plot The plot revolves around dreams and obsessions as is often the case with the most dramatic conflicts in human life The main character, Genevieve Planch , dreams of being a serious artist She has talent and some experience, but as an 18th century woman, every door to the necessary training is closed to her She doesn t let that stop her, but perhaps she should have She certainly does not realize how dangerous the path to that dream will become At a certain point, a life spent painting flowers on silk and porcelain begins to look less to her like a prison sentence And then there are various obsessions with the color blue which might not sound like plot driving material to you, but you d be wrong.The primary obsession is with achieving a new shade of blue on porcelain, a blue so delicate and so bold, icily perfect and excitingly sensual at the same time Some pursue this new shade for financial gain and dominance in the porcelain market Some are driven by the beauty of the color itself Others are drawn by the science involved in making the color They desire the pre eminence of reputation in the academies of science such an accomplishment will bring Some see the new color as their salvation out of intolerable lives For all of these characters, the drive toward the new color is so desperate that it turns deadly Bilyeau has created a potent brew of artistic, scientific and financial dreams colliding with industrial sabotage, the Seven Years War between England and France, and the fortunes of those perched precariously at the highest echelons of life in both countries. This antique lover loved this book In the 1700s, porcelain is at the center of London in every way It is traded like money and is possibly valuable Genevieve Planche is an English born descendent of Huguenots, and she longs to be a painter Venice is where she anticipates accomplishing her dream Sir Gabriel Courtney and Genevieve cross paths, and he offers her the chance to go to Venice if she works for him on a special task finding out the secret behind the color blue With this assignment, Genevieve finds out the secrets of porcelain, as well as the craft of industrial espionage This antique lover fell for the storyline all the way Learning the process of porcelain making was riveting, especially when learning how important blue was to the craft Genevieve is a beautifully drawn character, and the exploration of greed on the hunt for success was carefully rendered In addition, Bilyeau s writing was lovingly descriptive, and I was transported to fascinating Derby Porcelain Works Thank you to the author for the complimentary copy All opinions are my own.My reviews can also be found on my blog www.jennifertarheelreader.com I am writing this review as a member of Rosie s Book Review Team authors, if you re looking for reviews, I recommend you check her amazing site here , and I thank her and the publisher for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.As soon as I read the description of this novel I was intrigued by the topic I ve read about the different fancies and frenzies that have taken societies or at least the upper parts of them by storm over history Suddenly, something new becomes popular, and, especially if it is difficult to obtain, people will go to almost any extreme to get hold of it and then use it to their advantage People have made fortunes and got ruined over the years by pursuing and purchasing items as diverse as tulips, silk, spices, exotic animals, dies, precious stones, gold, and indeed, porcelain I know some things don t change much, and a few items that have replaced those in modern society easily come to mind Some of them seem almost impossible to believe when looked at from the distance of time, especially when the object of desire is something with very little if any practical use, and it comes at a time of crisis and historical upheaval, where important things are at stake The morality of such matters is one of the serious aspects of this novel, and it is compellingly explored.The author, who has a background in history, does a great job of marrying the historical detail of the period making us feel as if we were in the London of the late XVIII century first, then in Derby, and later in France with a fairly large cast of characters and their adventures, weaving a mystery or several into a story that reminded me of some of my favourite novels by Alexandre Dumas Guinevere, the protagonist, is a young woman who does not seem to fit in anywhere She is a Huguenot, and although born in England, she is the daughter of French refugees and that is a particularly interesting angle of the story, especially because the author is inspired by her own heritage , and is considered a French woman by her English neighbours, a particularly difficult state of affairs at a time when England and France are at war Her people had to escape France due to religious persecution and she feels no love for France, and yet, she is not fully accepted in England either, being in a kind of limbo, although she lives amongst people of her faith at the beginning of the novel Guinevere narrates her tale in the first person, and she is insistent in writing her own story, at a time when that was all but impossible for a woman I have recently read a book which mentioned Wollstonecraft s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and I could not avoid thinking about Wollstonecraft who, like Guinevere, was born in Spitalfields and lived in the same era , and her own complex and controversial life as I read this Guinevere is not a writer but an artist, and she feels constrained by the limitations imposed on her by the fact of being a woman She wants to paint like Hogarth, not just produce pretty flowers to decorate silk But that was considered impossible and improper for a woman at the time She also wants to pursue knowledge and is attracted to revolutionary ideas and to dangerous men She is eager to learn, intelligent, but also ruled by her desires and fears she is stubborn and at times makes decisions that might seem selfish and unreasonable, but then, what other options did she have Personally, I find Guinevere a fascinating character, a woman of strong convictions, but also able to look at things from a different perspective and acknowledge that she might have been wrong She is a deep thinker but sometimes she cannot control her emotions and her impulses She has a sense of morality but does things that could cost her not only her reputation but also her life and that of those she loves And she ponders and hesitates, feels guilty and changes her mind, falls in love and in lust, and feels attracted and fascinated by driven and intellectually challenging men and by bad boys as well a bit like the moth she masterfully paints, she gets too close to the flame sometimes.Guinevere is not always sympathetic, but that is part of what makes her a strong character, and not the perfect heroine that would be unrealistic and impossible to imagine in such circumstances There are a number of other characters, some that we learn about than others, and I was particularly fond of Evelyn, who becomes her friend in Derby, and whose life shares some parallels with that of Guinevere, and although I liked her love interest, Thomas Sturbridge, a man who keeps us guessing and is also driven by his desire for knowledge, I was fascinated by Sir Gabriel Courtenay He is far from the usual villain, and he has hidden motives and desires that keep protagonist and readers guessing He entices and threatens, he offers the possibility of knowledge and protection one moment and is ruthless and violent the next He is one of those characters that are not fully explained and one can t help but keep thinking about and wondering what adventures they might go on to experience once the book is over There are also real historical figures in the book I have mentioned painters, and we also meet and hear about a fair number of other people, some that will be quite familiar to readers interested in that historical period The author is well informed, her research shines through the novel, and I was particularly fascinated by the history of Derby porcelain now Royal Crown Derby Her descriptions of the workings of a porcelain factory of the period, the actual running of the business and the machinations behind it make for an enthralling read, even for people who might not be particularly interested in porcelain I am I have already mentioned the adventures, and there are plenty of those Although I do not want to go into the plot in detail and the description offers than enough information about it , readers only need to know that there are mysteries not only the famous Blue of the title , impersonations, spies, criminals, robberies, books with hidden compartments, false letters, murders, kidnappings, experiments, plenty of painting watercolour, oils , secret formulas, wars, surreptitious journeys, imprisonments, philosophical debates, and even a wonderful party There is also romance and even sex, although the details are kept behind closed doors In sum, there isn t a dull moment.Notwithstanding all that, the writing is smooth and flows well, and although there are occasional words or expressions of the period, these are seemingly incorporated into the text and do not cause the reader to stumble There are moments of reflection, waiting, and contemplation, and others when the action moves fast, there is danger and the pace quickens I think most readers will find the ending satisfying, and although I liked it and would probably have cheered if it was a movie , it had something of the sleight of hand that did not totally convince me or perhaps I should say of the Deus ex machina, that I am sure would be an expression the character in question would approve of And no, I m not going to reveal anything else.This book is a treat for any lover of historical fiction, especially those who like adventures reminiscent of times past, and who enjoy a well researched novel which offers plenty to think about and than a parallel with current events A great combination of history, adventure, and topics to ponder upon Although this is the first book by Bilyeau I ve read, I m sure it won t be the last one.
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- 439 pages
- The Blue
- Nancy Bilyeau
- 12 March 2017 Nancy Bilyeau