A gloriously unraveling yarn about Judith Mortimer, country bluestocking, a tale much enlivened by terrific 19th-century atmospherics--from an Essex owler's (smuggler's) pub, with its coarse cruelty and fellowship, to a hideous lunatic asylum, with its manacles and water torture; from a whorehouse where children are taught to sing and dance, then sold to old men, to the loathsome cellars of child beggars in the stews of London. Innocent, lovely Judith enters these worlds when her scholarly, freethinking father, cast off by his aristocratic family, deep in debt and dying, leaves her to the mercies of her uncle, the Count of Matcham--who will write off the debts only if she agrees to marry his flunky, Mr. Massingham, a smarmy lech with cold sores. Judith is resistant and unconventional; she adopts an orphan Gypsy child in a period when Gypsies were outcasts, and falls in love with Robert Barnabas, son of the head of the owlers' gang that uses her barn for storing its contraband. When Robert goes to Leyden to study medicine, and her father dies, Judith is captured by Massingham, then deposited in a private Bedlam when she refuses to marry him. Lively characters of all classes, combined with love, torture, heroism, and a blend of social satire and social uplift, make this--like Cleeve's others--several hundred cuts above the usual historical flimflam.