Unhappy wives stew over sexual double standards while bitter mill workers seethe--in this sturdy, serviceable tale of the early (circa 1830) days of the industrial revolution in Yorkshire. Verity, whose father and brother have been killed by angry mill workers, is hustled by her mill-owner grandfather into marriage at age 16; her hubby is to be cousin Joel Barforth; disobedience is out of the question; and Joel is delighted to acquire grandfather's mill. But these are stormy times: the violent progress of the Reform Bill (which would regulate the hours and conditions of working children) is an increasing threat to the mill-owners. And while forthright, practical, not unkind Joel can accept some of these reforms, other mill-owners (like hateful, elderly Morgan Aycliffe, who marries Joel's gay young sister Elinor) are strenuously opposed. Meanwhile, domestic matters are also in disarray: Verity, though raised to observe the double standard, finds it difficult to accept Joel's infidelities; she has an affair with Morgan's sensitive son Crispin (who speaks out for the exploited workers)--and this erotic, devoted affair gives her enough sense of worth to demand (and get) new respect and promises of faithfulness from Joel. The other women come out on top too: Elinor's affair with a handsome Irishman will be brutally cut short, but cool and cynical Elinor will now just patiently wait for her husband to die; and Joel's other sister Hannah marries beneath her station but finds a chance to exert a canny political authority through her husband. Backed up by the issues and horrors of the era's labor conditions--a well-padded, comfortable tale with a lib-lesson somewhat muffled within.