Flashforward: A future incarnation of Harry (named Tyrell) visits Reginald – now working back at the Library – and asks Reginald to tell him about Harry. Reginald begins to reminisce…
Harry has been suspended following the incident with Stafford. Smith has been shunted off to another department and Harry has a new partner, Amanda Bell. He heads out to Poemander to pay the Family a visit.
Amanda, meanwhile, investigates two cases that have come to the Library’s attention: a man who gives blood constantly without ever seeming to run out, and reports of credit-card theft from 86 different people who were all at the same magic show.
Charles notices that something is wrong with Wildcrown’s Tass. He also has Anna Lowther over for a night of debauchery and then rudely turfs her off the estate in the morning.
James receives phonecalls from the Wytchwood Consortium, who are interested in buying land to the west of the estate.
Investigation reveals that Wildcrown is sickening due to corrupted Quintessence flowing from a Node somewhere to the west.
A series of odd dreams prompts James to explore the ruins of the West Wing, where he finds Great-Aunt Muriel living in secret. It is revealed that Reginald has known about her living there all along and questions arise as to just how many other secrets Reginald is keeping from the Family.
Muriel makes it clear that – as far as she is concerned – James is no longer head of the family. Charles has usurped that position. James is contemptuous of her beliefs and suggests that she find somewhere else to live. Muriel replies by saying he should take back the family crown.
Reginald, Charles, Harry and James head out into the fields to the west to see what is causing Wildcrown’s problems (although James is deeply skeptical). They find a ruined abbey with a node turned sour in its midst. Reginald confirms that the node is a Shallowing – a weak point in the walls between the worlds – and suggests that they cross over to investigate. James hynpotises himself to allow himself to accept their kooky claims. The group forge a way through the Shallowing.
Flashback: James (aged 14), Emma (aged 9) and Charles (aged 4) are playing the ruins of the abbey. Emma wants to show Charles fairies in the grass. James comes along grudgingly – he is already too old for this. It is the last time they play together as children. James leaves in disgust, but Charles and Emma are confronted by a glowering spirit called Calbolgas that calls on the head of the family to stand forth…
While the group cross through the Shallowing, they are spotted by Glen Hawthorn – an occult bookseller known to Harry. Glen possesses some minor occult skills and is able to follow them through.
They find themselves in an earlier version of the abbey – still in ruins. There they meet a young version of Genevieve (“Genny”) and her brother Titus. They are there to play with the spirit Calbolgas in order to keep the place special. Titus eventually runs away in tears, but Genny shows the group a deeper shallowing still…
This second shallowing leads to an earlier echo of the abbey, when a Saxon church stood here. There they meet Robert of Warrington, who seems to be an ancestor of the family. He seeks an ancient artifact called the Goddess Stone which he is sure is hidden in the church. It will be of use, he says, in something called the War of Ruins. They eventually find the stone hidden in the altar. Harry discovers that one of his past lives was sacrificed to this stone on a ziggurat somewhere. The stone has become corrupted and swarms of tattered spirits attack the group. They forge through to a deeper shallowing still…
Now they emerge at the ruins of a Roman shrine to Mithras and meet another who has become lost in this strange temporal echo as well – a crusading knight of St. Michael called Gulfric von Goteshabn. Gulfric also mentions the War of Ruins, calling it a recent conflict that has stripped the mage population to near-zero. He hopes that the spirit of the shrine can help him.
A botched investigation of the shrine by Reginald changes everything, however. Genevieve’s spirit is abducted by a horde of tatterlings, and Reginald sets off into the depths of the Gauntlet to rescue her. Although the others follow him, only James and Charles are able to keep up. The rest are lost.
Flashbacks: Emma (now 15) is carrying out a massive willworking at Wildcrown. It goes wrong and a trio of black entities attack her. James flees with Charles, and Emma – her dying words – urges him to run. Run and never look back..
Reginald is confronted by Norrel, who is determined to kill Genevieve. Genevieve orders Reginald to kill Norrel, but he refuses. Genvieve is forced to do it herself, calling on the three black entities, and pays the price with her own life.
Reginald, James and Charles come to a strange tower in the Gauntlet. They are met by distorted reflections of the Three Fates. During an attack by more of the tatterlings, they are separated, with Charles falling into a deeper chamber.
Charles is forced into hideous copulation with the bloated matron of the Fates, Mama Pus. In mere minutes, she bears his malformed son. Charles escapes in a wild conflagration.
James experiences more flashbacks of Emma’s death and discovers emblems of the Family in this strange tower. He begins to realise that he has not hypnotised himself into accepting magic. He has quelled his earlier self-hypnosis (following Emma’s death) to make himself reject it.
Reginald finds Genevieve’s spirit – almost material here – imprisoned in an upper chamber by the Engineer. She tells Reginald that if he frees her, the Engineer will kill them all. Rejoined by Charles, they attack the Engineer, with Reginald finally killing him after a massive battle.
They return home, wondering at what they have experienced. James and Charles are drawn closer and all are certain that the future is now that little bit closer…