Set in Manchester, England in 1848, this is the story of Emma Belden, an orphan with two young siblings to care for as a result of a cholera epidemic that took their parents. Forced to enter a workhouse, they endure mistreatment and meager food. Emma’s beauty draws the unwanted attention of the master of the workhouse and, worse, Edward Wells, the owner of the local textile mill. Thus the story begins on a bleak note with the horrors of the workhouse and sniveling evil men grasping at goodhearted Emma.
Emma is forced to choose between the safety of her brother and sister and her own virtue. She makes the hard choice and endures the abuse that comes with it. But hope is at hand. Gideon, Lord de Monthaut, is smitten the moment he sees Emma, and thinks perhaps he might have Wells’ mistress for a night. But he is in for a surprise.
Snow’s good storytelling draws the reader into the hard life faced by those impoverished in the Victorian era. No doubt other young women were swept into the same terrible life as she was. But since this is romance, so Emma endures and finds love. A splendid, if sometimes troubling, story for the Victorian era aficionado.