A grim but thin story--all villainy and happenstance--about a poor 18th-century English boy whose life as a bonded servant in Colonial America is no better than a slave's. That, presumably, is the point of the book: it has no fictional values despite the lame attempt to give young Charlie Brig a sympathetic distinguishing trait in the form of a penchant for house-building. (He saw one built as a small boy.) As things go, Charlie's father hates him (he doesn't look like the rest of the family) and his mother tells him to keep his head down and his mouth shut. (""A poor boy has no right to hold up his head."") But Charlie speaks up to the landlord; his father has a heart attack; and Charlie has to run off before his brothers get him. In London, he's taken in by a youth who signs him over to a ship's captain--who'll then sell his bond to an American settier, for whom Charlie will have to work for seven years. His first master, good-hearted Mr. Chapman, loses Charlie to his Simon-Legree cousin Master Greer in a card game. Charlie becomes the personal servant of spoiled, imperious seven-year-old Dessa Greet. And when it's all too much he runs away to the slave hideout in Black Swamp--where he'll stay with the blacks and build his house. Except as a reminder of white servitude, empty melodramatics.