The Newton Railes manor house, built by the Tarrant family in 1565, is the most important landmark in the Cullen Valley in Gloucestershire in Pearce's mid-nineteenth-century tale. She tells of the waning fortunes of the Tarrants and the family catastrophes that beset them, finally placing the house in the hands of a local quarryman's son. Martin Cox, raised in a shack on his father's quarry, had the good fortune to be educated in the house at Railes by the family's eldest daughter when her father could not pay a debt to Martin's father. The intertwining of Martin's rising fortunes with the Tarrant's falling ones is predictably but neatly spun. Its ending is less a conclusion than a starting point for further adventures.