Desert Isle Keeper
The Weaver's Daughter
Just as the cloth at the center of The Weaver’s Daughter is woven by skillful hands, the author’s skill weaves a warm and engaging tale of a way of life forced into change by new technology and of the growing love between two people on opposite sides of that change.
For centuries, weavers of Amberdale like the Dearborne family have woven broadcloth by hand and displayed it at the cloth halls where buyers can judge its quality. But in the last few years, a milling process has been perfected to make broadcloth more quickly and at lower cost. The Stockton family owns one of the area mills, employs many local people, and lives alongside the weavers in an uneasy alliance. At the age of ten, Kate Dearborne and her best friend Frederica Pennington secretly giggle over young Henry Stockton, and Frederica declares she will marry him. Following that statement, Frederica informs Kate they can no longer be friends, for Frederica’s father has become a mill owner and friendship with a weaver’s daughter is now forbidden.
Eleven years later, England is at war with Napoleon’s army, and broadcloth is needed in quantity for uniforms and Kate has learned the weaver’s trade well enough to take over her father’s business. However, Silas Dearborne has traditional views, and since his own son betrayed him by taking a job at the Stockton mills, he will pass the business on to John Whitby, his journeyman. Silas’s dream is that Kate will marry John, give up her foolish notions of weaving, and become the lady of the house.
After three years of fighting in the war, Henry Stockton arrives home from the Iberian Peninsula yearning for the peace and stability of the home he left. Instead he returns to turmoil. A mix-up on the battlefield resulted in the army declaring him dead. No one expected his return, and he faces a mixture of reactions to his arrival.
At home, his grandfather William is pleased but displays a paranoia that demands a new unquestioning loyalty to everything concerning the mill. Additionally, Henry learns that his sister Mollie has been sent to London in order to hide her scandalous (she’s unwed) pregnancy. Adding to Henry’s dismay, his grandfather’s heart has hardened, and the elder man has encouraged enmity between the cloth millers and the weavers.
Since the heir to the Stockton mill has returned, unease ripples through the community. Some weavers hope – a hope Kate shares – that Henry’s return may signal a change of attitude and more cooperation with the weavers. But others, including Kate’s father, insist that Henry is painted with the same brush as his grandfather. Best stay with your own people, Silas advises. Loyalty to the weavers is your world. But Kate watches Henry’s re-entry into the community with interest and yearns for something different in her future.
William’s lack of compassion and the poor working conditions in the mill disturb Henry. He also feels pressured to take a wife from among the mill owners’ daughters, specifically Frederica Pennington. The union would please his grandfather, affirm Henry’s loyalty, and combine two companies into a more profitable whole. Henry resists. War has changed him from the flirtatious youth Frederica and Kate once gossiped over to a serious man more interested in finding the best path for his future than in marrying for financial gain.
The woman who most intrigues him now is Kate Dearborne. When they meet on the day he comes home, her coolness is his first indication that all is not right in Amberdale, but her quiet strength appeals to him. In such a small village, Kate and Henry cross paths often, such as at Sunday services, or when Kate visits her brother at the mill – and through Mollie who strikes up a friendship with Kate after Mollie’s return to Stockton. Above all, they learn of each other through conversations and gossip that bind the community together even in its division. As the time approaches for Kate and Henry to choose their futures, they both recognize a unique opportunity to bridge the differences in Amberdale’s citizens, but to be together, each will need to balance traditions and past loyalties against growing respect and love.
Although there is an occasional reference to individual faith in the novel, the author’s focus is on several moral values that play out amidst the broader social environment. Every character must decide whether to remain loyal to traditional connections or to find a higher loyalty when the former becomes destructive. Through Henry and Kate’s observant eyes and conscious choices, the author depicts how those with economic power or moral fortitude can insert compassion into the new structure emerging from societal change. With Mollie, Henry urges honesty about her situation and values Kate’s honesty to help him maintain a moral map while building a successful milling business. The life lessons illustrated are timeless and as relevant in today’s real life communities as in fictional Amberdale.
I’d compare this novel to North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. Ms. Ladd’s smooth writing rhythm, effective dialog and vivid descriptions rely on emotion and tension to draw the reader into the conflict and romance with a sure touch. The characters are well-drawn, and I wondered to the last pages how Henry and Kate’s love would fare, and how others in the story would find their balance in the new social order. As I re-read the book in order to write this review, the multi-layered story offered me new insights on compassionate living and building bridges with people on all sides of an issue. I’ve already recommended The Weaver’s Daughter to friends as a fine example of an inspirational romance with an historical setting, and I recommend it here without reservation.