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by Glyn Hughes

Pub Date: March 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-671-72516-5
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Like this English author's The Antique Collector (1991), another darkly original novel, this one set among the infernal mills of newly industrializing Yorkshire during the hapless, scattered, Luddite worker rebellions, circa 1812-16. Above the horrendous cruelty, stupidity, and bubbling ambition among people of all castes struggling to cope with a new age, Hughes, here, skims off an improbable love affair between a schoolmaster/weaver doomed to inconsequence and a dying, redheaded, desperately coping prostitute. The workers' raid in honor of ``King Ludd'' has failed; and Mor, always suspect because of his (potentially subversive) learning, leaves his village and the starving family he cannot save—his wife (forever frozen in dry fear), one son already crippled by the mill, and the nine-year-old Edwin, already a dawn-to-dusk factory sacrifice—and finds Mary, with whom he trades guilty secrets. With betrayal a sport as well as a livelihood (a so-kind elderly couple turn in Edwin and Margaret, two abused escaping factory waifs), the lovers ``can't betray each other.'' Mor's trek with Mary among soldiers, a mill owner, and a cynical general is through dangerous waters, while the savagery of child abuse, the stranglehold of petty officials on the poor, and a feral injustice set the pace. Finally, all are betrayed—by their innocence, by the times. At the close, Mary, pregnant by Mor, presses on to what she visualizes as her own peaceful valley (after sending little Margaret off to what she hopes will be an elegant life in her old whorehouse), and Mor, his immortality gone when his manuscript of grievances is burnt, is forced into the army. And the Revolution? ``For one who suffers, 'opes. And one who 'opes, believes.'' Through the pall of man-made misery, Hughes darts the blood red of nature and human love. A bitter, bright, and moving novel.