Cornwall in 1661: the savage wounds of the Civil War are beginning to heal. But peace brings its sown problems for two families: for the Suttons of Rossmere, who face financial catastrophe and for the Menheires at Trecarne who strive to make the transition from merchants to gentlemen of the county.

Into this troubled picture comes seventeen-year-old Perdita Treveryan, who has her own overwhelming dilemmas. What can she learn from the life of the mother she never knew, the woman who gave her the name of Perdita, the lost one? Why does the enigmatic musician she meets on her journey west know so much about her life, and what is the reason for his strange hold over her? How can she bury the stigma of her scandalous origins and find the security she craves while still remaining true to her passionate and adventurous nature?