How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.
In A Nutshell: Dark family drama set in Pembrokeshire, at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.
This doom-laden tale about the Owen family and their land begins with a mystery: the discovery of a body, declared to be that that of Leah Owen, who happens to be the main character of the novel—but this is in no way a spoiler. If anything, it provided added intrigue to the story, which then goes back in time to Leah's childhood. Much later, the why and how of the initial chapter comes as a total surprise.
Life on Cwmderwen is hard, with strict adherence to the word of God—and that of Thomas Owen, head of the family, who becomes a religious zealot to the point of insanity after the death of his eldest son. Leah's entire life is ruled by duty to family and farm, and the restrictions of religion. Her bright childhood spirit is quelled by bereavement and loss of love—happiness is snatched from her at every turn. Aside from the day to day problems (scratching a living, troublesome rellies and a wrathful killjoy of a god), Leah also has to contend with the malignant presence of slimy businessman Eli John, who has unwelcome influence over their lives.
I was completely absorbed in this book all the way through; it's so well-written, every character clearly defined, every piece of research unobtrusive (and it is clear that the author knows her subject so well), every dark, dismal day in the Welsh valleys so real. Although it is most definitely worth 5* for the quality of the writing and the story itself, I was initially going to take off a half star because of personal taste; I found this book more depressing than any novel of stark dystopian futures, simply because of the lives wasted and made unhappy because of the barmy religious and social protocols of the day. But the end was uplifting indeed, enough to make me revise that; Thorne Moore, you have earned that extra half star!
If you love nitty-gritty, no-frills family sagas set in relatively recent times, you will ADORE this. Even if they're not quite your thing, you'll still love it. I did. I read at the end that it's actually a prequel to A Time For Silence, which I have just bought. There—that proves I loved it!