Born to privilege and gifted in languages and spells, Neil Franklin has planned his brilliant future well. From academic accolades to finding a proper marriage he is intent upon upholding his family name and honor. The sudden death of his parents shatters all of that, leaving Neil and his younger sister beggared and orphaned. When Neil's estranged uncle offers him a bargain that will save him and his sister from debtor's prison or exile, Neil eagerly agrees. Handing over the family grimoire as collateral for his debt, Neil devotes himself to working as a teacher for wayward youth at a boarding school high in the clouds. But Highfell Hall is not the charity Neil imagines it to be and the young men there aren't training for the dull lives of city clerks. Amidst the roaring engines and within the icy stone halls, machinations and curious devices are at work. And one man, the rough and enigmatic Leofa, holds the key to both the desire that Neil has fled from all his life and a magic as dangerous as treason.