Silken Threads, by Patricia Ryan

>> Thursday, April 26, 2007

After liking Patricia Ryan's The Sun and the Moon, I went looking in my TBR for the other books I knew I had by this author. The next I tried was Silken Threads, both because it's related to TSATM and because I was very intrigued by the Author's Note included at the back of the book (I refuse to believe I'm the only one who reads that kind of thing first!).

Graeham Fox is on a secret mission: rescuing his lord's illegitimate daughter from the clutches of her abusive husband. As payment for his service, Graeham will receive her twin's hand in marriage and a vast estate, much more than any landless soldier could ever hope for....

Attacked in London, Graeham is almost killed. He is given a chance to heal at the humble home of Joanna Chapman, a silk merchant's lovely widow. Her past has taught her not to trust any man, especially one as rakishly handsome--and mysterious--as Graeham. But his raw strength and gentle touch unleash a blistering passion in Joanna. Caught between ambition and desire, Graeham's future hangs by a thread. And only Joanna's love can save him from himself....
So what was in that intriguing Author's Note that caught me? Ryan mentions how she got the idea for this story. Apparently, she was giving a talk in a workshop and wanted to illustrate the method of story generation in which "you take some element from an existing story (...) and start playing with it. You twist it around, switching genders, time periods, or any other factors that will give it a fresh spin, then use it to launch an entirely new -and hopefully fresh and original- story".

She gave an example off the top of her head, coming up with setting the plot of the movie Rear Window in Medieval London, rather than in a modern city. And as she said that, she realized what a good idea it could be, and decided to write it. Well, as far as I'm concerned, she was right: it was an inspired idea. The Medieval London setting goes excellently with the story, and though you can detect the Rear Window feel, this is a fresh and original story that goes in a completely different direction. A B+.

Graeham Fox is in London on a mission. His overlord, Lord Gui de Beauvois, had the bright idea of marrying one of his illegitimate daughters to a London silk merchant without telling the man she was illegitimate. The man took the news badly, and now Lord Gui suspects his daughter is being mistreated. So he sends Graeham to the rescue and tells him that if he succeeds in rescuing Ada, he'll be given the hand of Lord Gui's other daughter in marriage, as well as some very nice land in Oxfordshire. And for landless Graeham, who would like nothing better than to settle down in his own land, with his own family, that's a powerful incentive indeed.

His first overtures to Rolf Le Fever, the silk merchant, seem to be successful enough. However, when Graeham comes back that night to pick up Ada, he's ambushed by two men, apparently sent by Le Fever and seemingly intent on killing him. He only survives with a mere broken leg thanks to the timely intervention of a passerby.

His saviour is Hugh of Wexford (hero of TSATM, if you'll remember, just as the daughter of Lord Gui's that Graeham wants to marry is the heroine of that book), who takes him to recover at his sister, Joanna's house, just down the street.

Graeham is supposed to stay at Joanna's only for the night, until Hugh can come back with a cart and take him to the monastery where he'd been staying. But it turns out the back of Joanna's house looks out on the back of Rolf Le Fever's, and Graeham sees a golden opportunity to keep an eye on things until he's recovered enough to effect a rescue. The very attractive Joanna is a temptation that he doesn't need, given that he's practically engaged, but since she's married, he should be able to resist.

Actually, Joanna isn't married. She's only pretending to Graeham that her husband is away, rather than dead, to make sure he'll stay away from her. It's not that she finds him unattractive; quite the opposite. But Joanna's marriage was an unhappy one, with a husband who wanted her for her family's money, and so she refuses to be used again, especially by a man she knows is hiding something.

This was an entertaining, mostly character-driven romance. Graeham is great, a former warrior who's more than ready to change that lifestyle for one that will be better suited to his quiet, thoughtful nature. He's a honourable man stuck in a situation that keeps him from being as honourable as he'd like to be. He wants to tell Joanna the truth about his mission, but can't reveal the scandalous fact that Lord Gui had two illegitimate daughters. Graeham is also conflicted about his increasing attraction to Joanna, given that he's supposed to marry Philippa and that Joanna's married herself. Living in such close quarters really keeps the sexual tension ratcheting up.

Joanna, too, is a strong, interesting character. She married down, against her parents' wishes, and that spelled disaster for her. When her family disowned her, her husband started treating her very shabbily. She did put her foot down with the man and didn't allow him to be as much of a bastard as he would have been, but there isn't much she can do about the difficult financial situation in which he's left her. Hugh is trying to get her to marry again, and is even trying to matchmake between her and a friend of his, but though Joanna knows she probably should do what Hugh is saying, her heart just isn't in it, especially once she begins to know Graeham better.

For a book that happens mostly inside Joanna's small house, Ryan conveys a surprisingly rich sense of how life might have been in Medieval London. The majority of Medievals seem to take place in the countryside, in some keep or other, and so I really liked getting a sense of how people lived in the city, especially people who aren't powerful nobles, but merchants and such.

I said "mostly" character-driven, and that's because there is a kind of suspense subplot. I actually assumed it was all going to be pretty straightforward, that the bad guy of the piece was Rolf, the person Graeham assumed, and that was it. All that would be missing would be for Graeham to find a way to extract Ada from him. Let's just say, things were not that simple, and the ending was nicely exciting.

All in all, a very enjoyable book.

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