Set in Yorkshire in 1904, this novel depicts the lives of ten or more characters living in or around the mining town of Netherwood. Each character has been chosen to illustrate the changing times and how each strata of society copes with it. The local lord means well but makes mistakes, businessmen rule by fear, and trade unions struggle for recognition. The emancipation of women is contrasted in various guises and set against the widow who simply goes out, off-page, and hooks a duke as her next husband.
The writing is simple and modern in style, much of it narrated, some of it in character point of view and with dialogue often in the Yorkshire dialect local to the area. The storyline moves somewhat jerkily but always chronologically as the author visits and revisits each of her major characters in turn. The detail of mining life is depicted as harsh, as indeed it was, but perhaps thankfully is written in a cool, seen-from-a-great-distance kind of style that I found slightly soporific and unemotional. I can admire Nellie’s stolid acceptance of death, but only with 12-year-old Seth did I feel any real sense of empathy. I found the book a little old-fashioned in its style, but there will be many readers who will relish it for its detail of a time gone by. The book can be read as a stand-alone novel, but many of the characters will be known to readers of the previous novel, Netherwood.