The Clouded Hills is the first book of the Barforth Trilogy by Brenda Jagger, all of which are based around strong female characters who are struggling to find a sense of self and independence in the 20th century.
The Clouded Hills is set in early 19th century England at the time of the industrial revolution. The protagonist, Verity Barforth, is the daughter of the most prominent cotton manufacturer in Cullingford, a manufacturing town in Yorkshire. Her life is turned upside down when she suddenly becomes heiress to a fortune when her father and elder brother are killed by the workers of their factories when they attempt to introduce labour saving machinery that will see the loss of many jobs for the workers and subsequent starvation. All control is taken out of Verity's hands, and she soon finds herself married to her elder and incredibly ambitious cousin Joel Barforth.
The Clouded Hills follows Verity Barforth as she attempts to carve out an identity of her own in the face of opposition from the society in which she was born. It is her journey of self discovery and an attempt to find true love in world that seems determined to make sure that it can't be found.
What can I say? You may never read a better book. Not because it is a wonderful piece of literary fiction. Not even because you will learn more about the industrial revolution in the early 19th century than you ever knew before.
It is because if you are anything like me, you will fall in love with the characters. Their challenges will become your challenges, their disappointments will become your disappointments and their triumphs will become your triumphs. You will feel as though you there with them for every step of their journey. You will live the life of the people in the slums, as well as the lives of those in the manufacturing classes. You will become part of the early 19th century itself; understand its social, political and economic complexities and how these really affected the lives of women at the time.
The following two books in the Barforth Trilogy, Flint and Roses and The Sleeping Sword are equally as enjoyable as The Clouded Hills.
Like The Clouded Hills, both books centre on a strong female character who is hindered by her sex, each in the generation following the one before.
It isn't, however, just the changes for the role of women throughout the 19th century that this trilogy focuses on. Through the three books, we also see the changes bought by the industrial revolution and developments in technology, public amenities and greater human rights.