Iris Anthony’s The Ruins of Lace touches on a moment in history that I was completely unaware of prior to deciding to read this historical fiction novel; the setting is 17th century France during the period when King Louis XIII prohibited lace. This seemed a rather harmless thing to be outlawed, and I was curious to learn more.
The Ruins of Lace takes readers through the first person accounts of seven narrators whose livelihoods are driven by Flemish lace. Although lace has been prohibited by the King, it is still produced and is smuggled over the borders via nightmarish means. During her research of lace, Anthony discovered that dog couriers were one of many ways that lace was transported from Flanders to France. In fact, a dog’s account is one of the seven narratives, and was the most heartbreaking for me to read. Per historical accounts, over 40,000 dogs were shot and killed as they went over the borders. I’m extremely sensitive to animal abuse and death, and was not sure I would make it through The Ruins of Lace because of the fate of these poor dogs.
Though The Ruins of Lace is mostly dreary and depressing, there is one narrator who finds joy in the lace. Katharina Martens has been making lace since she was a young child under the sharp eyes of nuns; she cannot envision a life for herself that does not involve making delicate patterns in the fine lace. Unfortunately for Katharina and others who made the lace, they often ended up blind and with a hunched over form because of their working conditions. Katharina’s sister, Heilwich (yet another narrator), is desperate to rescue Katharina from the convent–she feels it should have been her who was sent there to make lace as a young child.
I’ve now mentioned three of the seven narrators, and unfortunately these are the ones that made the largest impression on me. Because of the short chapters and foreign names and titles of some of the narrators, it was difficult for me to realize where I was in the story. Though most of the story is a progression, The Ruins of Lace also skips back in time to provide background on the characters to help readers better understand their motivations and perspectives.
The Ruins of Lace was not a good match for me, and I cannot recommend it due to the confusing structure of the novel. The writing itself is lovely, even though it is dark and unforgiving. I’m grateful for both author’s notes (there is one at the beginning and also at the end of the book) at the very least; they helped me to understand her purpose in telling this story and the lessons she wanted us to take away and apply in our own lives.
Jennifer graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She occasionally dabbles with her own fiction writing, particularly with the Young Adult and Paranormal genres. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and daughter.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Sourcebooks Landmark. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.