In the 1750s London, Genevieve Planché – a young Huguenot (descendant of French Protestants who had been forced into exile) – dreams of becoming a painter. But hers is not an era conducive to such female ambition. The most Genevieve can hope for is a job as a decorator at a porcelain factory in Derby, as England, along with much of the rest of Europe, has been gripped by obsession with the delicate ceramics.
A few weeks before she is set to leave for Derby, Genevieve is approached by a mysterious and dashing Sir Gabriel Courtenay. He offers her £5,000 and a chance to live a free and fulfilling life as a female artist in Venice, if she steals the formula for a rare and exquisite shade of blue that the factory’s chemist is working on.
Thus begins the novel The Blue by Nancy Bilyeau, a tale of passion, espionage, and the dawn of the industrial era where innovation and speed can give an enterprise a huge advantage in the world of growing consumerism and wealth-creation.
Facing insurmountable obstacles to her dreams at home, Genevieve hesitates only a moment before accepting Sir Gabriel’s commission. But when she arrives in Derby, her plans are complicated by unexpected friendships and then a love affair with the chemist himself, Thomas Sturbridge. His story of the discovery of the main ingredient to the new color awakens in Genevieve a new respect for his work, and she tries to back out of the arrangement. It is then that she learns that far from being a spy working for a Derby competitor, Sir Gabriel is part of a network of powerful interests that reaches all the way to the royal court at Versailles.
Fearing for their lives after the body of a former employee of the factory has been found in a local river, Genevieve and Thomas decide to escape. But before they can do that, they end up kidnapped and bound in a cargo ship for France, where their masters have already made plans for them.
The Blue is an absorbing and entertaining mystery. It is also part of a growing trend in historical fiction of telling stories of women – real or fictional – who resort to extreme or unusual measures in order to achieve artistic dreams in societies dominated by men who keep the gates barred. If you enjoy those types of narratives, you can read my recent review of La Luministe by Paula Butterfield for another recent example.
If you like historical mysteries, check out Silent Water, a Jagiellon Mystery Book 1, set at the 16th century royal court in Cracow. It’s available in ebook and paperback on Amazon and FREE to read on Kindle Unlimited.