I won an advanced reader’s copy of “The Weaver’s Daughter” by Sarah E. Ladd, one of my favorite writers of faith-based historical novels. I was excited to see what a book in the “proof” stage of publishing looks like. I had to make myself stop reading the first night, if that tells you anything. It’s a page-turner even in the editing stage. I found some places where I’m sure they were caught in the editing process — a missing name in one sentence (228), the wrong last name at the beginning of a chapter (Mr. Stockton, 240), but overall — wait for it — this was a well-woven plot.
As I read I was reminded of “North and South” by Elizabeth Gaskell, a story set in the Industrial Revolution. The prologue opens with the dissolution of ties between friends, Kate Dearborne, the weaver’s daughter, and Frederica Pennington, now miller’s daughter. Off in the distance, we see the “why” for the breaking of bonds: the Stocktons. This foreshadows a rivalry that goes deep between their families, in work and in love.
The story opens with the return of Henry Stockton who has been fighting in the Iberian Peninsula, having been away from Amberdale for “three years, two months, and one week.” He sees Kate Dearborne struggling with fallen wool from her cart and stops to help, their first meeting in his mind. In truth, his grandfather and her father, Silas, are enemies, and her memory still stings from the thought of losing her friend, Frederica. What makes matters worse is Kate’s brother, Charles, has gone to work for their father’s sworn enemy, and she’s caught in the middle. Kate sees herself as a weaver, whereas her father does not. That realization time and again is heartrending to watch. Her father tells her that woman’s sphere is home and the only fitting roles for her are to become a wife and mother.
Henry Stockton is living with inner struggles of his own. He re-lives scenes in his mind of the horrors of war. These remembrances as well as his experience in the military both hurt and help him. He comes home to England though believing he’s left the war behind him only to come home to a different one.
The mill owners and weavers are at odds with the addition of gig mills. These modern conveniences mean to the weavers that less work would come to them. Ladd shows the pros and cons of these debates, including the fact that the mill employs children alongside adults to work long hours with little care for their welfare. Kate Dearborne is an eyewitness to this and is drawn to the mill when she encounters a sick child. She then calls on Henry to do right by these children, which is reminiscent of “North and South.”
While there seems to be this great divide between them, Kate and Henry are soon drawn together time and time again. I love that Ladd uses weaving terminology in metaphor and symbolism throughout the story: “invisible thread,” and even a nod to the “fabric of our lives” (212 — if it stays in the finished work). I won’t give away more, but there’s a fire, a murder, and more thrilling details this author deftly weaves together to create a great story of pride and prejudice, love and loss, as well as forgiveness and redemption. I kept my notebook by my side as I tried to go all “Sherlock Holmes” on this story.
I loved this book and was sad when the pages started to dwindle. My panicked mind said, “It can’t be over this soon!” I will have to read the completed book now along with a re-reading of “North and South.” I never thought I was much of a mystery lover, but after having read all of Ladd’s works I think I must be. I recommend this book to those who love an inspirational regency mystery.