Can two girls from the opposite sides of the track in 1830s Shropshire ever hope to form a lasting friendship?
Welcome to a gritty and gripping new saga series set against the fascinating backdrop of an ironworks in a part of England that became a heartland of the industrial revolution.
The Daughters of Ironbridge is the debut saga of Mollie Walton, the pseudonym of historical novelist Rebecca Mascull who was inspired to write this exciting new series after gazing down from the world famous iron bridge near Telford, the pioneering structure which marked a turning point in English design and engineering.
And this first book in an Ironbridge trilogy will delight readers with its hard-hitting storyline, clever blend of real history and fiction, and an atmospheric evocation of those early pioneers who laboured long and hard in the early days of industrialisation.
Anny Woodvine’s family has worked at the ironworks for as long as she can remember. Their home town of Ironbridge is dominated by the fire and smoke of the blast furnace which belches out heat night and day, and her father John is one of the men who ‘feeds’ it with fuel every day.
The brightest child in her road, Anny’s mother, Rachel, taught her to read and write and some locals reckon that the girl is ‘too clever for her own good.’ But Anny has big dreams and her mother is ambitious for her so when Anny is asked to run messages for the family of Ralph King, the wealthy ‘ironmaster,’ she grabs the opportunity with both hands.
It’s at the King’s grand home, Southover, that Anny meets Margaret King, a girl born in the same month and year as herself but surrounded instead by privilege and wealth.
However, behind closed doors, nothing is what it seems. Margaret is lonely, isolated and friendless. Her mother died in childbirth and she is a ‘disappointment’ to her father Ralph. In Anny, Margaret finds her first ally and friend and together they plan to change their lives.
But as disaster looms over the ironworks, Margaret and Anny find themselves surrounded by secrets and betrayal. Can they hold true to each other and overcome their fate or are they destined to repeat the mistakes of the past?
The rollercoaster tale of Anny and Margaret is filled with hardship, drama, tragedy, the fickleness of fate, and the powerful bonds of love and friendship.
Walton’s characters are beautifully and powerfully portrayed and there is plenty of heartbreaking emotion as passions run high and cruel betrayal brings grief, anguish and anger.
But as Anny’s father, the tough and determined John Woodvine, muses: ‘Sometimes you have to battle against the odds. You walk through your life and the way is long, the way is hard.
But you keep on going.’
The Daughters of Ironbridge is a dark, uncompromising, and yet enchanting story and a compelling start to what promises to be a fresh and bold new saga series.
(Zaffre, paperback, £6.99)