Book Review for “The Fugitive Colours” by Nancy Bilyeau.
Summary: “As Genevieve Sturbridge struggles to keep her silk design business afloat, she must face the fact that London in 1764 is very much a man’s world. Men control the arts and sciences, men control politics and law. And men definitely control women. A Huguenot living in Spitalfields, Genevieve one day receives a surprise invitation from an important artist. Grasping at the promise of a better life, she dares to hope her luck is about to change and readies herself for an entry into the world of serious art. She soon learns that for the portrait painters ruling over the wealthy in London society, fame and fortune are there for the taking. But such high stakes spur rivalries that darken to sabotage and blackmail—and even murder. “
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical, UK – London; Other Categories: Novel, Art, Mystery, Thriller, Sequel.
Although I have a feeling that this could be read as a stand-alone novel, it is actually the sequel to Bilyeau’s novel “The Blue,” which I enjoyed very much. Obviously, that was my main reason for wanting to read this sequel. If you haven’t read the previous novel, you should know that the concept of the previous book was a good deal of intrigue and espionage in the art world, regarding the secret formula for a new shade of blue. This book, however, finds our protagonist returned to London, married and with a young son, working on hand-painted designs for silks for the fashion trade. While Genevieve still can’t be recognized as a formal artist, this brings her closer than she was when (in the first book) she was painting on pieces of porcelain tableware.
While the mystery in the first novel was very straight-forward, this book is far more complex, with many twists and turns, with some of the intrigue coming from the art world, and some from the world of politics. The latter is mostly due to the end of the war between France and England, about which I know very little (even though when I google it, I know I studied it in school). In any case, I know even less about the silk trade or anything about hand painted silks, so I’ll have to take what Bilyeau puts here at face value. I also don’t know much about the art world from that period (sorry, but I much prefer the paintings from the impressionist school), except that they’ve always looked dark and dingy, and not particularly attractive.
I must say that I’m having a hard time writing this review because much of the mystery here only comes together into a cohesive plot when we get closer to the end of this book. As you know, I refuse to include spoilers in my reviews, so you can see my dilemma. However, what I can say is that, much like in the first book, Bilyeau makes Genevieve into a very plucky and progressive woman, with whom we can easily sympathize, and we continue to care about her and her welfare. With her husband unable to work in his preferred profession of chemistry (as a condition to allowing him to return to England), he’s reduced to being a private tutor to the son of the Earl of Sandwich (although I’m not sure if this one is the same guy who was the first person to put stuff between two pieces of bread for a meal), it is Genevieve’s silk design business which is sustaining the family, which in itself was pretty revolutionary (by that I mean a woman running a business). Obviously, if she was portrayed as a weaker person, that wouldn’t have worked for the story, and Bilyeau puts Genevieve through the ringer with this book.
So, we get to enjoy and get to know more about Genevieve here, as well as some really evocative descriptions of London (well, some of which don’t evoke much beauty). In addition, the accounts of the exotic flowers and plants that Genevieve and her staff are trying to paint for the silk designs are just stunning, and I could picture all of them in my mind. The thing is, I’m wondering if the many plot twists included here, and the complexity of the story was a bit hard for me to follow. In the end, I did get what was going on, but it wasn’t an easy road, but thankfully, Bilyeau’s lovely writing style kept me going. All told, I did enjoy this novel, and I continue to like Genevieve as one of the spunkier characters I’ve read, and this is a great book for those who like women’s fiction novels. I’m also certain that historical fiction lovers will enjoy this book (especially those who are looking for novels NOT set during one of the world wars), and I can warmly recommend it with a solid four out of five stars.
Lume Books released “The Fugitive Colours” (Genevieve Planché Book 2) by Nancy Bilyeau on May 12, 2022. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley.