An eccentric little business sets in Regency England, just as the Industrial Revolution is rising and with millworks opening across the land where native cottagers make fabric and clothing by hand. The Luddites arise along with the factories and the magic of England gets into a headlong brawl with the upstart industrialists. Factories are destroyed and riots take place.
Into this struggle steps orphaned Lucy Derrick who has been living with her extremely unpleasant uncle in London. One night, a pounding on the door reveals the bedraggled, confused form of London's most eligible bachelor lord, Lord Byron. He demands to speak with Lucy (who has never met him) shouting, "the leaves have scattered." And her adventure begins.
Lucy knows something of magic, as her father did and he was teaching her all that he could before his untimely death. Her Uncle Lowell barely tolerates Lucy's presence and has arranged a marriage with the creepy Mr. Olson to get her out of his house. It is all Lucy deserves after all: a few years earlier, she impetuously ran off with a Mr. Jonas Morrison, saying she was in love, but it wasn't so and Morrison proved himself a bounder. They spent the night together in their escape (though nothing personal happened) and Lucy got branded a fallen woman, beyond the pale of society. Uncle Lowell has an even creepier housekeeper, Mrs. Quincy, who knows that Lucy has a gift of magic, but always calls her a foolish girl.
Lucy's life is confined by the faded walls of the worn-down London townhouse. With the notorious libertine Lord Byron claiming to know her, things have gone downhill even further. But Byron proves the starting point to massive changes in Lucy's life and sends her on a journey into the struggle of the magic of Olde England and the rise of the new Industrial England.
Lucy, fairly friendless in the confines of her dreary uncle's house, finds herself suddenly meeting all sorts of new people. The intense Miss Crawford takes her under her wing and encourages her magic studies. Lord Byron takes her out and about. Lucy also has to deal with an arranged marriage to the loathsome Mr. Olson, a new millworks owner. She finds him utterly distasteful and much too old. Byron definitely feels Olson is not for Lucy.
With her growing knowledge of magic, she finds herself involved in the hunt for the twelve missing pages of the Mutus Liber a profoundly magical book that can affect the whole course of England's future. The Olde magic creatures (in the form of the Luddites) work to destroy the Industrial Revolution and will do anything to bring that about, including killing the Prime Minister.
So, Lucy is not only involved in this struggle of old and new, but fighting off the bonds of an arranged marriage, helping her beloved sister (married to another odious man named Mr. Buckles) whose daughter has been switched with a demon changeling; but most importantly - controlling her life, wants and needs.
The story is a great expansion on the tried-and-true regency romance, (as there is some here), and awash in dark creepy country mansions and uneasy spirits and magics. Fiction of the "gothick" sort was being published at the time, like Barozzi, The Venetian Sorceress written by a Mrs. Smith and of course, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
I found this engrossing, with the scope of the tale carried forward by a whole coach load of uncanny characters spread out in the requisite crumbling homes, ancient woods, surrounded by fog or sheets of rain. Magic, haunted libraries and dark streets running with water and rats, even a lost inheritance is contrasted by the lovely parties put on by the ton and the high-toned life Lucy has had little contact with as a young woman in London. Stalwart through it all, our heroine struggles through all that fate and magic can throw at her, working towards a very satisfying ending for herself and all of us. ~~ Sue Martin