We both enjoyed ‘A Time for Silence’ and had high expectations for this prequel, The Covenant. It certainly did not disappoint. Hooked from the start, this is a gripping story about a family struggling to work the land under almost unbearable pressures of poverty, ill-health and mental trauma. A roller-coaster of a story.
The novel centres around the life of Leah Owen from her youth through to middle-age. It seems life conspires against her. Yet, despite everything, she maintains a kernel of hope. Her stern father prevents her from becoming a teacher, then duty stops her from marrying the man she loves, and who loves her. This is a sorrow she takes with her into middle age, developing a stoicism in the face of adversity. As the story progresses, Leah’s life becomes an increasingly narrow one of brutal toil and hardship with little outlet for her bright and sensitive soul. Her strength of character and her determination to preserve these ‘twenty-five acres, one rood and eight perches’ for her nephew keeps her from leaving Cwmderwen, until she realises that the covenant is one soaked in blood.
Creating a vivid sense of place and time, the novel follows three generations working the land: the father, harsh, puritanical, God-fearing; terrifying in his absolute certainty about the covenant between himself and God to keep the land for his family. When his favourite son, Tom, dies after a scuffle with the infamous Eli John, life becomes even more gruelling for the family. The second son, Frank, has no hope of living up to his elder brother and soon becomes a drunkard incurring heavy debts and enthralled by Eli. Leah struggles to keep the land against all odds.
Leah’s nephew, John, the next generation to work the land, appears to be calm, quiet and hard-working. But beneath the surface there is molten lava waiting to erupt. And erupt it does, as the story heads towards its climax.
The Covenant, published by Honno, is Thorne Moore’s fifth novel. This is the haunting prequel to A Time for Silence.