Firstly, this isn’t the cover of my copy of this wonderful book, and I shall endeavour to replace the picture above asap. I got this at the Wakefield Lit Fest book swap, and honestly, I picked this book up purely for its cover of a busty dark haired wench clinging desperately to the chest of her massive angry looking man, with a background of suitably dark Satanic mills thinking it would be a bit of a romp and was unbelievably surprised to find some of the best written and most gripping historical fiction I’ve read this year. This was like reading’s Susan Boyle.
The story of the Mortymers, a hard working but troubled family living in the Welsh iron making regions in the early 19th century and the beginnings of the Chartist movement and the Unions. Told from the point of view of Iestyn, it opens on his first day of work in the furnaces aged eight, chipping away at iron ore in the freezing cold. The opening chapters had me hooked instantly, and the relationships between Iestyn, his hard, conservative father and firebrand older sister were so instantly implanted. I fell in love with this entire family. The Mortymers are strong and proud and their lives are shaped by the world erupting around them.
Set in community of starving workers whose lives are completely in the grip of their masters who abuse them and use them as chattels to further their comparatively massive fortunes as they begin to stand up against the tyranny of a system where you are paid in tokens which can only be used in certain shops, where the prices are controlled by the masters who own entire towns, mountains and furnaces and mines and all. This is a Welsh Inheritance and so well written and informative about the time. You can feel the people’s anger, and sympathise with the Chartist movement, though the ever present danger of the militant Scotch Cattle adds tension to a plot which wrings you out emotionally-if you’re not sobbing at the end you have less soul than I do.
This book is funny and poignant and beautiful, I now really want to visit the area of Wales it is set. The characters leap off the page and into your heart and there they stay, more than once this week I’ve thought about the Mortymers and wondered how they’re doing (which I realise is slightly ridiculous) and I am very much wanting to read the rest in this series, though maybe in a little while after I’ve had time to get over this book!