Caught in the midst of this unravelling world is Ruth Flowers, daughter to the town midwife, Annie Flowers. Annie is cruelly murdered in front of her daughter by the hysterical and corrupt towns folk of Ely following a distraught mother's bitter and poisonous rambles after the death of her deformed child at birth. Ruth flees for her life, and on her journey befriends the mysterious and troubled Joseph, and finds safety and refuge within the household of Elizabeth 'Lizzie' Poole as a maidservant. Ruth and Lizzie form a bond, and travel together through the chaotic world around them.
Enchanted by Lizzie, Ruth uses an old binding charm from her mother's Spell Book on Lizzie. Ruth's obsessiveness with Lizzie was one of the off putting factors for me, as her feelings jump from place to place. This could perhaps be due to the charm she casts to bind Lizzie to herself, and in that sense the naivety of damage it causes is a repercussion of stupidity I felt to the very end. Ruth gave all she had to a Lizzie, including the aforementioned Spell Book - her only possession in the world, to someone who turns out to be a very damaged individual who is never able to fully reciprocate Ruth's feelings.
Lizzie Pool is a very complex and dynamic character whom I struggled to follow and really feel any feelings for other than dislike. For the majority of the novel I did not like, or care for her and Ruth's flowery thoughts and devotion to her frustrated to me to no end. Ruth follows Lizzie through life as a doe eyed lamb, failing to see the world around her for what it really is at times, or those close to her. She is naive and innocent, and her attachment to Lizzie strikes me as a blind devotion in the place of her slain mother. I feel that Lizzie is a very selfish creature, who garners means to her own end and desires without ever really thinking of how it may affect Ruth, or anyone else around her.
Joseph is a contradiction, Clements write him as mysterious, dark and it is clear from the outset that he is troubled by an awful secret. Yet he is compelled to reveal to Ruth part of what he is running from not long after they join paths, while Ruth will reveal nothing which would explain why this stranger feels compelled to do so. Ruth doesn't give Joseph much to encourage him at all most of the time, and his desire to seek her out was confusing, as much as I was silently encouraging him. Unlike Ruth's devotion to Lizzie, I found Joseph's courting of Ruth endearing, perhaps because I found Joseph's motives were purer than Lizzie's.
Joseph was my favourite character, despite his dark secret which is revealed late into the novel. An army deserter who has seen enough bloodshed for a lifetime and more, Joseph believes in the power of words to fight this raging war and heads for the printing presses of London to join the fight with a passion.
Clements skillfully weaves the fictional characters with those who were very much alive in 1646, such as Oliver Cromwell and Elizabeth Poole, who really did testify at the trial of Charles I, claiming that God had given her visions of destruction if he were executed. She creates an authentic world of chaos and confusion around Ruth and the repercussions felt through all levels of society. Clement's writing is beautiful, and she artfully brings the turbulent times vividly to life. Her construction of the world around Ruth is as fascinating as it is horrifying to follow Ruth's escape from persecution and danger.
'The Crimson Ribbon' is one of the first novels in a long time where I felt as though I was holding my breath every time I turned a page. Superstition, rumor and fear rule the pages of this wonderful first offer by Katherine Clements, and despite my aversion for Lizzie (I'm sorry, I just do not like her at all!) I would really recommend anyone looking for a gripping piece of historical fiction to pick this book up and give it a go. You won't be disappointed, that's for sure.