The star-crossed lovers in Darke's historical romance are 17-year-old Jess, an illiterate kitchen maid for the spinster Jarman sisters, and a young slave named Midnight who's been brought to Bristol, England, by Captain Meredith, a fat cat in ""the triangular trade."" Legally a free man in England, Midnight escapes from his master after a brutal beating and is nursed by Jess. However, his presence in the Jarman household is tolerated only because he fits into Harriet Jarman's business schemes (as a major investor in Meredith's last unprofitable voyage, she plans to use Midnight as chief witness to indict the captain on charges of fraud). And as soon as Midnight has recovered, the pair strike out on their own--Jess to tend tables at a tavern, Midnight (a.k.a. The Battling Black) to take on local fighters in the boxing ring. Yet despite some impressive wins, Midnight still doesn't feel ""free""--""There is only one way for me. I must go home""--and so he returns to Africa, unaware he's leaving a pregnant Jess behind. But their parting would be more poignant if Jess and Midnight were not such a simplistic study in black and white: There's Midnight, the ultra-noble African who quotes Blake and speaks the King's English, vs. cute, cussin' Jess who's the soul of scrappy pragmatism. Shrewish Harriet Jarman, who's invested with a certain Tom Jonesian vulgarity, is the only character with a shred of life; and while Darke has obviously clone her homework on late 18th-century customs and colloquialisms, her treat-merit of complicated situations and conflicted feelings is skin deep.