Born to privilege, gifted in languages and spells, Neil Franklin has planned his brilliant future – from academic accolades to a proper marriage – and is intent upon upholding his family name and honor. The sudden death of his parents shatters all of that, leaving Neil and his younger sister beggared and orphaned.
But Highfell Hall is not the charity Neil imagines it to be and the young men there aren’t training for the dull lives of city clerks. Amidst the roaring engines and within the icy stone halls, machinations and curious devices are at work. And one man, the rough and enigmatic Leofa, holds the key to the desire that Neil has fled from all his life and a magic as dangerous as treason.
The financial recklessness and sudden deaths of Cornelius "Neil" Franklin's parents leaves him and his sister in dire straits. Unable to complete his studies, Neil accepts a teaching position from his uncle Gerard at Highfell Hall, one of the many special schools floating high above the city of Herrow and powered by the mysterious aether. But Highfell Hall proves grim and strange, and, as Neil gets to know his students and their gruff caretaker, Leofa, he is drawn into a thick web of secrets, desires, romance, and betrayals. This is a gripping, beautifully written, and thoroughly enjoyable example of steampunk: rife with class injustice, intrigue, and mislaid identities; blending the best parts of the modern thriller and the Victorian sensation novel; and full of endearing, believable characters.