The practice of alchemy, a crusade against a robber baron, and the search for a beautiful, rare book feature in this mild historical novel set in London and Leeds of 1847. David Carvell, apprentice to his alchemist uncle who was wont to produce black fumes instead of the gold which he sought, is sent on a mission to find a mysterious book called ""The Jewel of New Life"", which was believed to contain the secret of making gold. The information is relayed by David's cousin Paul, imprisoned for a minor misdemeanor at Leeds. In his spyings and journeys around Leeds, David uncovers the story of the terrible bandit, Redfist, in whose castle the book is supposedly cached. Soon a group of stolid citizens storm the castle, and David, with the help of a shepherd boy, finds the book which turns out to be a religious treatise after all. David realizes the superior value of spiritual riches and becomes apprentice to Caxton who will print the text. Artificial period atmosphere and dialogue weight the story.