In the winter of 1836 the "Belle of Wilmington" is wrecked off Wherrytown. The Captain and his American sailors flirt, drink, brawl, repair the damage to their ship . . . and inflict fresh damage on the town. Another visitor marooned far from home is Aymer Smith, a man brimming with good intentions both for the "Belle's" black slave cook Otto and for himself, a virgin and a blunderer in search of a wife.
Amid the haunting, monumental landscape and a wealth of characters that rival Dickens's most enduring creations, the hopes and hazards of the Old World are pitched - unforgettably - against the New.