Dedicated scientist Gladys DeWalt is a rising star in a Victorian community of scholars and explorers influenced as much by politics as discovery. So when her highly touted mission to excavate a legendary shipwreck ends in devastating failure, the Council of Scholars deals her another devastating blow.
Stripped of her title, she's demoted to status of Intellectual Ward and placed under the authority of Sebastian Cromwell, a former professor she remembers as stern and exacting. Gladys feared Cromwell as a student, and fears him more since his accident and transformation as part automaton by rogue scientist Nigel Longbridge. Cromwell may look and function like a man, but he's as cold and clinical as the gears under his skin. He takes Gladys on to settle an old debt, but informs her from the outset that he will not brook any disobedience or disrespect. When Gladys defies him, she is punished.
But under Cromwell's stern demeanor is the lingering shadow of humanity, and as the dashing automaton comes to admire his ward's intelligence and drive, he begins to question what really caused her mission's failure. What he discovers will shake the Council of Scholars to its core and give Gladys a chance to redeem her name and win the love of a man who thought he was now beyond emotional connection.