This book is based on the fortunes of a coal miner, the family who own his mine and the family who live next door.
Not content with being a miner all his life and wanting something better for him and his twin sister he seeks a way of finding his freedom. He writes to a lawyer in London who informs him that the law is on his side and that of all miners.
As long as they don’t work more time than the law allows they can choose to be free. Only as a mine owner with wealth and standing you naturally wouldn’t want your workers to find out they can be free so they seek to quash him.
As time passes they realise letting him go whilst giving the appearance of him escaping is the best thing to do to ensure that the rest of the workers toe the line.
Time passes and their fates are entwined again in London years later. A marriage now on the cards between the two wealthy families but a connection remains between the wayward miner and the head of the neighbouring house. She who aided his escape when it looked like he might drown in the river on the night he escaped to his freedom.
Fate keeps bringing these elements together and even when it looks like the mine owners have finally broken him they end up taking the problem with them to the new world of America.
As a marriage gift and under some duress the mine owner grants his second son by marriage a failing tobacco plant in Virginia in the hope that he and his headstrong wife will disappear and allow him to rescue his failing mining business by mining her neighbouring land, something she would never agree to.
The family in addition to mining have a shipping business, sending convicts as slaves to wealthy British landowners in Virginia willing to pay for labour or to purchase a British wife.
The married couple end up claiming the miner as a labourer for their land. Along with the man who plotted with the noble families to get him arrested and convicted in the first place. As you can image this doesn’t work out well for them.
Not least because they won’t listen to the tried and tested methods of the families around them who are making their plantations work. The wife seeks to learn from them and better the position of their plantation but as a female her voice is drowned out by male pride and prejudice.
When she looses her child it is the miner and not her husband who comes to her aid, he who showed himself to be trustworthy throughout her life compared to the man she married who plotted against her and allowed stubbornness and ignorance to make their position more unsalvageable.
When the harvest fails and he is left bankrupt with no prospect of borrowing money a glimmer of hope appears to him in the form of his mother. Travelling across the ocean to deliver news of his fathers passing and a way of accessing vast sums of money and the inheritance his father denied him throughout his life. His father believed that the wealth came from the family of his first wife and as such only promised it to the son from that marriage.
But in the background his jealous brother plotted with his father against him. They allowed the noose of his vices to push him into debt and despair so that they could leave him broken and destitute.
That is unless he has a child before a year passes from his father’s death. His mother bringing this news in the same breath as telling him that his wife has left the plantation for good with none other than the miner.
He gathers his meanest men and head off the beaten trails looking for his wife. If not to bed her and bear a child but to murder her so he can bed a more willing girl, marry her and claim his inheritance.
After days of tracking them the parties meet on reservation lands. One group to fall to their fate, the other to find their freedom.
I wasn’t as engaged by this book as I have been with other Ken Follettt books but it was still a good story.