Linda Finlay is a new author to me, but one through her seven published novels who is famed for West Country sagas based around traditional crafts, and The Girl With The Amber Comb is no exception. One of the first things that struck me as I started reading was the sense of place, and how deeply rooted the story is, in its Somerset location. I have read a lot of historical sagas, but this is the first one that I felt was really anchored in its location, and couldn't have been set anywhere else.
But it wasn't just the sense of place that made this novel for me, it was making the traditional craft a big part of the story, more than just a passing mention, or something the main character just goes off to do, sometimes.
This novel follows the story of orphan Eliza, a poor willow weaver dreaming of a more exciting life beyond her remote waterlogged cottage. When childhood friend Clem tells tales of a more exciting life along the river, the daydreamer and her 'grass is greener' philosophy embarks on a journey that is eye-opening on every level.
Eliza is portrayed as a naive and sheltered young woman and the author captures this so well. She is a character you can believe in, and while her short-lived infatuation with wealthy suitor Theo was somewhat expected, the circumstances that led to her fleeing the droves, and ending up 'caring for gentlemen' in disreputable Lavender House was not. I enjoyed the contrast between the remote withies, the slightly more bustling jailhouse environment of Lavender House, and the happy woollen mill and village. The descriptions of each and Elizas experiences of them were great to read.
For someone that got bored of historical sagas and diverted to chick-lit, Linda Finlay is a breath of fresh air in a genre that for me had got very samey. I look forward to learning more about traditional crafts and reading some more of her work. For now, I would encourage you all to stay safe and virus-free, and lose yourself in this new, heart-warming West Country tale.
The Girl With The Amber Comb was published on 19th March 2020 by HQ Stories. Available in paperback, eBook and audio versions.