Born on opposite sides of a cultural divide, two star-crossed lovers must overcome the prejudice and hostility of their entrenched communities if they are ever to have a chance of finding happiness.
Inspired in part by her own great-great grandfather, who was Primitive Methodist preacher in a village in the Oxfordshire Chilterns, historical fiction author Katie Hutton brings us a moving saga featuring a young woman from a sheltered background and the tall, handsome gypsy who steals her heart.
But it was while browsing in a charity shop that Hutton stumbled across a book detailing the intrinsic part played by seasonal Romani Gypsies during the hop-picking season in Kent in the early decades of the 20th century, and its depiction of them as the ‘warp and weft of the agricultural year’ set in motion this richly detailed cross-cultural love story.
In the Oxfordshire village of Chingestone in 1917 Ellen Quainton has been raised by her mother Flora and grandfather Oliver, a preacher with the local Primitive Methodists, a strict breakaway movement from the Wesleyan church which adheres to a simpler form of worship and is drawn mainly from the poorer strata of society.
Ellen’s life is already mapped out for her with her intended, Charlie Lambourne, a boy from the local village, currently fighting on the Western Front in war-ravaged Europe. But when Charlie is killed in action, Ellen is left heartbroken and lost.
She gives up all thoughts of marrying and instead finds a job as draper’s assistant at a shop in the village. Five years later, on her way home from work, she is rescued from a risky herd of stampeding cows by Sam Loveridge.
Mysterious and unruly, Sam – with his dark good looks, laughing eyes and glinting gold hoop earring – is from a local gypsy community, and unlike anyone Ellen has ever met before. Sam notices things about her that nobody else does and before she knows what has hit her, Ellen is swept off her feet and shown a world of passion, excitement and true love.
But Ellen’s conservative world can’t possibly understand or approve of their relationship. Her grandfather says ‘their ways are not our ways,’ and Ellen and Sam are torn apart. Is their love strong enough overcome their cultural differences, or will the hostility and prejudice they face destroy the happiness they have found with each other?
With its soaring passions, human dramas and emotional poignancy, and its powerful evocation of the social constraints of living a life mapped out by tradition and family expectations, The Gypsy Bride is an enthralling and well-researched saga with the charismatic figure of Sam Loveridge at its beating heart.
Also playing lead roles are Ellen – torn between her family loyalties and the man who teaches her what true love really means – and the beautiful countryside of Oxfordshire and Kent where two tightly-bound communities battle to protect their age-old traditions.
Brimming with romance but with harsh reminders of the realities of life and love in rural England a century ago, Huttton’s entertaining debut comes complete with an old-fashioned recipe for spiced crab apples… and, to her readers’ delight, the promise of a sequel set mainly in Nottingham in the 1950s.
(Zaffre, paperback, £7.99)