On a bleak January day in 1697, in Edinburgh, a young man is hanged for blasphemy. Those close to him have their hopes destroyed and their lives overturned. John and Isobel's love is shattered. Forced apart by the bigotry of the times and cruel circumstances, each must deal with dangers and tragedies of their own, whilst clinging to their diminishing hopes of finding happiness together.
Linked to real events in Scotland's troubled history: economic misery and the stranglehold of the Kirk, the story weaves through the filthy streets and closes of 'Auld Reekie', to prosperous bookbinding workshops in Cambridge and London and far overseas to the ill-fated colonial venture in Darien, with the charismatic John Wyllie in thrall to Isobel, a gifted and independent woman, but adored by the faithful and downtrodden servant Susan.