The year is 1717. Stung by the mysterious death of his only son, Count Ostrov renounces army life and retires to his remote island retreat. There in mourning he loses himself in his love of puzzles, turning the very structure of his spectacular Slav castle into a giant mechanical conundrum of revolving doors, moving floors and unstable staircases.
The Count brings to this impossible castle the legendary English printer Nicholas Flood, and charges him with the task of producing a book without beginning or end. But no sooner has Flood set about his quest than he meets the Count's beautiful, brilliant and yet somehow damaged daughter, Irena.
In the shadows cast by the wheels and cogs of the clockwork castle, Flood finds himself distracted from the task in hand, and instead begins work on another book entirely, a secret give to a secret lover - a tiny octavo volume with one word, 'Desire', gold-tooled on its spine . . .