The Brakeland family had once owned its land and prospered, selling its bounty to the monastery of Targe. An unwise decision by one Brakeland ancestor, however, reversed the family fortune when much of their land was sold to the monks to fund a crusade, making the current family at Brakelands tenants of Targe. Headstrong, clear-eyed Isobel, frustrated by the circumstances and angered at her father’s complacency, makes immediate and long-term plans to define her own fate and purchase the land back from the monastery.
As a young woman trying to act independently in the first half of 14th century England, she faces many challenges. The estate and grounds are her brother Geoffrey’s provenance, even though Isobel is three years older. She receives little support from her sister Modwen, who has fully embraced the obsessions and dramas provided by the nuns at Seawake as she becomes a novitiate. Her younger sister Judith comes to greatly resent Isobel, in part because she is in love with Edward Ralleyne, the nobleman’s son who Isobel views as a means to help reclaim Brakelands. Brothers Simon and Adam, being born after Geoffrey, are destined to study at Targe and eventually become monks themselves.
Isobel’s plans – which are often at odds with the wishes of her father, Roger – include building a pay toll station on the river to collect a tax from the traders that appear in boats and barges during the spring; monitoring whether intellectual, saturnine Simon or good-natured Adam might be chosen as the Abbot of Targe; and forming an alliance with the Ralleyne family to persuade Edward to restore the land of Brakelands as a gift. As she pursues her goal through the years, Isobel faces many hardships and setbacks with an admirable stoicism. She and her siblings must contend with crusades that remove Roger and Geoffrey for months at a time, unrequited relationships, childless marriages, and a horrific plague that decimates the castles, abbeys, and homes of nobility, clergy, and peasants alike. Throughout these events, the Brakeland family members never lose their humanity and complexity as they each create their own path and destiny, whether or not it is dictated by the times in which they live.