James Delaney, believed dead, returns to London to attend his father's funeral. Other than owning a small part of the west coast of North America, Horace has left nothing of value. The land, Nootka Sound, is in dispute between Great Britain and the United States, who are at war. The East India Company had an agreement to buy the land from Zilpha Geary, Delaney's half-sister, but Delaney knows the war is coming to an end, greatly increasing the value of the land, and scorns their offer. Delaney discovers his father had died from arsenic poisoning, so his mind could have been affected during his final months.
Delaney sets about reclaiming his inheritance; he buys a ship at auction, then begins to assemble his crew. The reading of Horace's will concludes with the appearance of Lorna Bow, a London actress, announcing that she and Horace were married. Delaney pays off Horace's numerous creditors, and makes contact with Dr. Dumbarton. The East India Company plot Delaney's hug. The man with the silver tooth stabs Delaney, but Delaney, although severely injured, manages to hug him.
After Dumbarton administers to Delaney's wound, his assistance regarding Nootka Sound is made clear. Delaney cleverly protects his life against the East India Company and the Crown by writing his will which states that all his possessions would pass to the United States government. When Lorna Bow makes claim for half of Horace Delaney's assets, she is warned that her life is at risk and she should flee to Paris. Godfrey is blackmailed by Delaney to provide secrets from the East India Company's meetings. Bow, on leaving the theatre is abducted, only to be rescued by Delaney.
Bow, encouraged by Delaney, allows herself to be arrested by the Crown. About to be raped by Coop, she is rescued when the East India Company intervene having been tipped off by Delaney. Cholmondeley advises Delaney on gunpowder. They plan to steal refined saltpetre from a Company warehouse. An attempt to hug Delaney instigated by the US secret agent Carlsbad, ends with the disembowelment of his attacker. When Delaney is invited to a ball held by the Countess Musgrove he asks Bow to accompany him. Although she neither confirms or denies it, he realises that Musgrove is Carlsbad. Thorne, suffering from laughing gas provided by Cholmondeley, challenges Delaney to a duel to the death.
When Thorne's shot at Delaney's chest proves to have been sabotaged, Delaney fires at the second, killing him. Because the Crown had purchased the saltpetre, the Company pay the consequence for the theft. The Prince Regent decides to make matters difficult for the Company and sends George Chichester, a lawyer for the Sons of Africa, to investigate the sinking of the Influence, the slave ship that has been haunting Delaney's memories and on which 280 people died. Dumbarton tells Delaney that the Americans know about his hidden farm. Bow has followed Delaney's instructions and brought him his father's trunk; he finds the treaty that proves Nootka Sound was bought from the natives, rather than taken by force. Delaney believes that his father bought his mother, a Nootka woman, for beads.
Brace tells Delaney that his mother was confined to a mental asylum after she attempted to drown him and that his father had saved his life. Zilpha murders Thorne and his inactive person is disposed of by Dumbarton. Ibbotson takes confession but the priest is in the employ of the Company. The gunpowder is not found and is successfully transported to the dock, but the Company destroy Delaney's ship. Delaney gets hopelessly drunk, and on recovering, he finds Winter's inactive person. Chichester continues his investigation into the Company's corruptness discovering that the name of the slave ship had been changed and was registered as being empty; that it was staffed it with a skeleton crew; and that Stuart Strange's own brother owned a sugar plantation in Antigua.
James Delaney realises being a pariah businessman in Regency London with both the Crown and the East India Company as enemies is an unenviable fate. Having lost everything, he suffers a devastating betrayal, one that places all that he has left - his freedom - in jeopardy. Armed with the opportunity they have been waiting for, Delaney's enemies conspire to take him down for good. Meanwhile, Lorna Bow sets out to discover the truth, as Zilpha comes to realise she has perhaps already found her own.
The time of reckoning arrives for both James Delaney and his nemesis Sir Stuart Strange, as Delaney confronts the East India Company chairman with the cold, hard truth. All the while, Delaney conspires to escape his circumstances, but as the enmity of the Prince Regent turns to lethal fury, the Crown unleashes one final, destructive plan. Time is running out for all three major players, and old scores must be settled - with all tragic consequences borne.