Once you've mastered the thicket of consonants and endemic patois with which this Welsh mining odyssey is landscaped, there's much here that is both winning and gripping. These are the adventures of Toby Davis, who is present at the worst of hard times--like the Tonypandy miners' uprising of 1910--and whose sacred and profane love dilemmas sprout amid violence, tragedy, and pint-lifting fellowship. Toby's relationship with young Ma Bron--both she and Toby were workhouse orphans--is an on-and-off affair. As Toby and the spirited, lusty Bron part and reunite over the years of Toby's journeying from pit to pit (and two years in prison), both are held from one another by theft own obsessions: Bron can't ignore the devilish handsome Sam, a petticoat chaser; Toby's smitten with prim, cool Nanwen, wife and then widow of big Dan, embezzler of union funds. A final mine disaster brings both to their senses as Nanwen and Sam show their weakness under fire. Much of the story is concerned with the village streets, pits, and taverns of the green valleys: ""thick wedges"" of quarrymen off to work ""like men raked from dreams""; the terror of a mine explosion seen against ""the listless movements of the drugged entombed""; and savage views of deprivation. An appealing and rousing, if not notably original, tribute to ""coal's Black Kingdom.