Several years are covered in the story, as Alvin makes his way back to Hatrack River to begin his apprenticeship to Makepeace Smith. However, Alvin really wants to find the Torch girl Peggy, who he knows has been watching him all his life. Peggy has other ideas though – although she loves Alvin, she cannot see a future in which he marries her for anything other than gratitude. So Peggy leaves on the morning Alvin arrives, just after orchestrating the rescue of little half-white slave baby. Named Arthur Stewart, he is adopted by Peggy’s family.
While Peggy travels to the city and eventually to Philadephia to get an education, Alvin learns smithing from his ungracious master, soon surpassing him because of his knack. He also befriends Arthur Stewart.
Disguised as an old schoolmam, Peggy returns to Hatrack River to teach Alvin what it means to be a maker. But just as Alvin declares his real love for her, a tragedy ensures that they will stay apart. Peggy feels tied to Hatrack forever, and Alvin must leave, taking Arthur Stewart (who is pursued by slavers) with him.
Alvin returns to Vigour Church, where the key plots of the fourth book are foreshadowed – when his brother Calvin, who has his own powers as somewhat of a seventh son, resents Alvin’s return.
This alternative history continues to enthral, and builds real momentum in this book, which covers Alvin’s teenage years and leaves him a man with all the trappings of a great maker.