Set in rural Shropshire shortly after the Napoleonic Wars, Precious Bane is narrated by the central character, Prue Sarn, whose life is blighted by having a harelip. Only the weaver, Kester Woodseaves, perceives the beauty of her character, but Prue cannot believe herself worthy of him. Her brother, Gideon, is overridingly ambitious to attain wealth and power, regardless of who suffers while he does so.
Gideon is set to wed his sweetheart, Jancis, but he incurs the wrath of her father, the cruel and scheming self-proclaimed wizard Beguildy. An act of vengeance by Beguildy makes Gideon reject Jancis and tragedy overwhelms them both. Prue is wrongly accused of murder and set upon by a mob, but Kester defies them and carries Prue away to the happiness she believed she could never possess because of her harelip.