Romance and Virginia City during the rowdy, brutal 1850's and 1860's, when individualism was almost a religion in the expanding West, as experienced by young, orphaned mine owner Emily Fielding and Daniel, and ex-preacher from Sacramento. They oppose the little settlement's ruthless banker, Jason Feathers, a man willing to tar his fingers in any enterprise or scheme promising wealth and power -- even such grandiose dreams as the abortive attempt to break California and other states away from the Union. To the young lovers' assistance come another, older preacher, who is owner of the all-important smelting mills, a wandering actor, and later most of the town's population. The coup de grace comes from Feathers' cuckolding wife and son by a former marriage. Period writing, this often appealing story successfully summons up an unvarnished portrait of the West's primitive days of settlement, but is mainly for women readers.