Set against the harsh and gritty background of the Industrial Revolution, this is a story of poverty and star-crossed love, of sexual exploitation and deceit, of greed, murder and revenge.
Luther Dearne has made a fortune wheeling and dealing with the wealthy ironmasters of South Riding, and by cheating the Swedish shippers who bring their iron to sell in England. Rich, powerful and apparently above the law, he has everything his heart desires - except children. When one day a woman turns up in the tavern with an orphaned little girl for sale, Luther does not hesitate, he buys her. Little does he know that Lissie, with her great beauty and mysterious origins, whom his wife hates at first sight, will prove to be both his greatest joy and his deepest heartache - and finally his undoing.