The story is set in rural Shropshire during the Napoleonic Wars. It is narrated by the central character, Prue Sarn, whose life is blighted by having a cleft lip and cleft palate. Only the weaver, Kester Woodseaves, perceives the beauty of her character, but Prue cannot believe herself worthy of him. Her brother Gideon is overridingly ambitious to attain wealth and power, regardless of who suffers while he does so. Gideon is set to wed his sweetheart Jancis, but he incurs the wrath of her father, the cruel and scheming self-proclaimed wizard Beguildy. An act of vengeance by Beguildy makes Gideon reject Jancis and tragedy engulfs them both. Prue is wrongly accused of murder and set upon by a mob, but Kester defies them and carries Prue away to the happiness she believed she could never possess because of her cleft lip and cleft palate.