- Virginia Johnson
Near Manchester, England, in 1836, Emmeline Roke finished a piece of golden embroidery on a blue silk gown. It wasn’t her gown. Had she enough money for such a dress, she would have used it to buy better food and other small comforts for her family. At fifteen, her sewing work was an important source of income for them. Everyone in her family worked—her beautiful, willful, widowed mother in the fabric mill whilst her beloved little brother, deaf-mute since nearly his birth, also did piece work. Life in the all-too-real world of Linda Holeman’s Search of the Moon King’s Daughter is hard for the Roke family, and it’s about to get harder.
Emmeline remembers that it wasn’t always this way. Not too long ago, they lived in a small cottage attached to the village grocery shop. Her father Jasper Roke may have been destined for greater things, but he gave it up when he met Emmeline’s mother, Catherine. He took the job running the shop, which came with the cottage. If he was a bit lazy and closed down for the afternoon when he felt like taking them all out for a picnic and reading poetry and fairy stories to his family, it was no matter to him. But when he died suddenly, everything came apart. The little family had to move to another town—a mill town—where there was work to be had. It was a hard life, but it was doable—until the day Catherine Roke was hideously injured at her loom.
With doctors scarce, expensive, and not always capable, Emmeline did the best she could to look after her mother. But the pain was constant, and the only cure for it was patent medicines filled with addictive opiates. Soon her mother wanted more and more--more than they had money for even if they mostly starved themselves to provide it.
One day, Emmeline comes home to find that her sweet, frail, six-year-old brother has been sold to a chimney sweep and taken off to London. Chimney sweeps’ “climbing boys” had hard lives that usually ended in early deaths. Forced to clean still-smoking chimneys, they would be beaten if they refused to crawl into the tiny spaces with their brushes. Emmeline knows that whatever the cost to her, she must find him and somehow buy him back.