Title: The Girl from the Mill
Author: Chrissie Walsh
Publication Date: 01/03/2019
Classification: Historical Fiction
Lacey Barraclough performs backbreaking work as a weaver in a textile mill, all while fighting for improvements to the horrid working conditions. As she pushes for unionization among her fellow workers, the last thing she expects is to fall in love with her boss’s son, Nathan Brearley. However, as their love begins to take shape, they realize they will have to overcome the arbitrary status and class that separate them—at least, for their families’ sake. But with England on the doorstep of war, Nathan enlists, and Lacey must navigate a new and complicated world.
This book’s greatest strength is the heroine, Lacey Barraclough. She’s tough, whip smart, and socially conscious. Never in the action does she simply accept the injustices around her. Instead, her entire drive focuses on the betterment of society, particularly the working class. Whether she’s fighting for unionization or better latrines for her weaver colleagues, she bounds from scene to scene, a firecracker on a mission. And god help anyone standing in her way. No one can accuse her of being written as passive.
Of course, she can only be as good as the book written around her. Fortunately, author Chrissie Walsh has written a stunning debut. Part-romance, part-historical fiction, part-war novel, part-examination of social class—a lesser author might balk at combining so many elements. However, Walsh handles all of this head-on, weaving plots seamlessly, and the result is a book both inspiring and heartwarming. And she does it all with brief chapters and a quick pace, making this a tight, fast read.
Much of the success here can be attributed to her brilliant attention to character. She utilizes a rather large cast, mostly made up of members of Lacey and Nathan’s families, but Walsh gives each such distinct voices and styles that readers should never be confused about who is who. Nathan’s mother, Constance, initially appears so hardened and almost cruel in response to her son marrying a “commoner”, yet Walsh keeps her away from caricature. Similarly, for a long stretch, Nathan seems devoted and loving while courting Lacey without crossing into sappy territory. In these places, which could easily devolve into extremes, Walsh find believability.
This book also has a lot to say about workers’ rights and justice and this was a particularly interesting concept for a historical novel. While often these works shy away from obvious injustice, citing it as a product of the time, Lacey is downright revolutionary. Women’s suffrage? Equal pay for equal work? Workers’ compensation? It’s all considered with Lacey taking charge.
However, this isn’t to suggest there aren’t darker moments to consider. After all, there is a war going on for a large chunk of the novel and Walsh does examine some of the broader horrors. As well, working conditions being what they were, there are a couple of factory scenes that are rough. In a book with a heroine who often uses her pluck to get what she wants, these moments even more impactful. The execution is tasteful and thoughtful.
Chrissie Walsh has managed to craft a solid story with such intriguing characters. This is an outstanding debut.
Note: I received a free ARC of this book through NetGalley.