Driven by an insatiable ambition to become an aristocrat to equal the owner of the Tidewater plantation to whom he is bound as a boy, Toby Giles, a Norfolk wharf rat, strikes West with the first tide of the Texas-bound settlers. With a sharp eye for business, Toby eventually becomes a rich and powerful slave-owning cotton planter, mill owner, builder and store manager. Toby is a complex, three dimensional figure who fully dominates this fine novel; his miserable beginnings forge an iron-hard core which teach him that if a man is to succeed with two strikes against him, his conscience cannot be too careful. Yet there are other sides to Toby; he treats his slaves humanely; his first wife Agatha and her father command his respect and win his love; and with them, he is fair, honest and gentle. It is his second wife, Josephine, a minor league Messalina, who brings out his latent qualities of brutality and lust, while each of his three children awaken different, conflicting emotions. And in the end, he realizes that in his single-minded pursuit of aristocracy and its attendant wealth, he has only become a rough-textured, cornbread aristocrat. An absorbing novel that paints a richly colored panorama of the old Southwest frontier from the 1820's to the eve of the Civil War.