It all starts badly for Anglo-American spinster Emma Appleby when her supposedly perfect father dies and leaves everything to her smug, obnoxious brother. When Emma receives an offer of marriage from an older and totally unsuitable man, she realises it's time to make a stand.
She takes her adopted son George (as Emma is a single woman with a child at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, there are plenty of opportunities for gossip and scandal there), and returns to the North East of England, where businessman Mick Castle is also having a bad time with his alcoholic wife and wayward daughter Connie, who looks nothing like Mick - so we wonder why.
The North East wasn't a prosperous or particularly inviting place at that time. As the local whore tells Emma, there's no living for the likes of us (single/widowed women) except up against a wall. But Emma's not about to start selling her body - with the help of Mick Castle, she opens a school, instead.
There's an attraction between Mick and Emma from the start, but of course he's married and there are going to be plenty of dramas, traumas and a big slice of heartache before they can find happiness.
This novel features a wonderful cast of characters. Mick and Emma are very real, and so are the child George and Nell the fallen woman, whose husband was killed down the pit and thinks all men are bastards really.
Elizabeth Gill is a native of the place about which she writes and she took me there. I could feel the bitter wind off the fells on my own face. When I finished reading, I was quite surprised to find myself back in the 21st century. This is an all-round great read - unreservedly recommended!