It is set on the island of Jamaica, with themes of violent enforcement of status quos. However, against odds the young girl Tessa recovers her sense of self. Tessa is an amateur botanist and slave, a force of nature. The old master names her after the familys home of, Tessington House, back in England. She is seen as derisory, too puny. Age six; her mother is sold to the Mapletons Plantation in St Elizabeth, after numerous episodes of disobedience and due to her vicious temper and sexual annexation of her slave lover, Jake; because she attacks a contender for Jakes affection; after she catches her lover Jake, in an uncompromising position, with the woman she attacks her with her bill.
Age thirteen Tessa is raped by the new young master, Mr. Rodney Galton-Masterson. But Tessa keeps the rape, like an unwanted present tightly wrapped and concealed even from her aunt girl, especially amongst her friends, like Puncy and Hero. After the overseer William Kelley informs the new master that he would need to break in the young slave girls, if he wanted to breed from them, he does just that.