This meticulously researched novel combines fact, fantasy and adventure in the early 1800s, where men wear top hats and tails, bacteria are interesting novelties called 'animalcules', and a mystical African tribe is found deep in the western Virginia mountains.
A notorious criminal, Timothy Blake, is seeking the formula to a machine that just might have the power to cure disease, and possibly lead to eternal youth. Mark Mackenzie, young American doctor and inventor of the machine, finds himself custodian of Terrain Smith, an English orphan who is a memory savant. Terrain is completely deaf, but speech reads and speaks well, helped in part by his incredible memory. Blake wants Mackenzie's formula for his own gain, and the United States and British governments have insisted Mackenzie destroy it—after Terrain memorizes it!
Mark brings Terrain from London to Frederick-Town, Maryland, placing the boy in a Catholic academy for safekeeping. As Mark continues to work on his machine, Terrain is kidnapped by Blake's associate, Thomas Monroe, and then rescued by an eight foot tall black man named Jason. Jason is a member of the African Tubaraé tribe who live in the Virginia mountain wilderness. From Jason, Terrain learns the Tubaraé lore of the elements of all creation. Jason bestows a protective amulet upon Terrain to protect the boy from dangers only the giant man can see.
Mark Mackenzie's machine conjures an unexpected result. Meanwhile, Timothy Blake's pursuit of the formula culminates in a future version of America, where there is a potential for horror none of them could have imagined.