Silk and Steel

Written by Catherine King
Review by Neville Firman

This novel is set in the mid-19th century, in a fictional South Riding, which is quite clearly, South Yorkshire, though that is a relatively recent coinage. The evocation of the region in this period, with its iron works and coal mines, and the description of the change-over which was occurring in the lives of the people from a rural to an industrial existence, is convincing. The heroine, Mariah is the daughter of an iron master who has a dark secret. Mariah has to struggle against the limitations which the attitudes of the time place upon the lives of women The hero, Daniel, is the upwardly mobile son of a miner and the two are, of course, destined to fall in love. So much is formulaic. For although this is not strictly speaking a family saga, we are clearly in saga-country. As is common in this genre, the underlying ideology is one of personal betterment through hard work and capitalist enterprise, with a stress particularly on the enterprise of women – in this case Mariah. With this emphasis on the trials and struggles of the heroine, it is a type of book which appeals mainly to women. But no man should be deterred by that, for there is much of interest for both sexes.

The author’s portrayal of the period is, as far as I am able to judge, accurate. The themes dealt with, which include rape, abortion and homosexuality, as well as the growing industrialisation of the area and the reactions to the change of the old landowning gentry, are handled in a way which vividly illuminates the attitudes of the time. All in all, a very good read.