As a young woman raised in the soot-covered mediocrity of an English industrial town, Isabel has led a common and directionless life. Secretly she yearns to be the center of something, anything, that is momentous and vital. She dreams of making marks on the world.
Her new job as housekeeper at Grace mansion is hardly exciting but does surround her with the accouterments of aristocratic lineage while allowing her to observe the habits of the enigmatic Dr. Edward Grace. Captivated by his tales of travel to Africa, Isabel is inexorably drawn into a tumultuous relationship which eventually reveals the Grace family's dark heritage and lays bare every secret, even the ones she keeps from herself.