1911. In a forgotten valley on the Devon-Somerset border, the seasons unfold, marked only by the rituals of the farming calendar. Twelve-year-old Leopold Sercombe skips school to help his father, a carter. Skinny and pale, Leo dreams of a job on the estate's stud farm. He is breaking a colt for his father when a boy dressed in a Homburg, breeches and riding boots appears.
It is 1916. The world has gone to war, and young Leo Sercombe, hauling coal aboard the HMS Queen Mary, is a long way from home. The wild, unchanging West Country roads of his boyhood seem very far away from life aboard a battlecruiser, a universe of well-oiled steel, of smoke and spray and sweat, where death seems never more than a heartbeat away.
Lonely and grieving for her exiled best friend, thirteen-year-old Lottie feels a prisoner. Her only solace is her study of the natural world around her father's estate: the strange profusion of its plants, the beauty and brutality of its predators, its mysterious dances of life, death and survival.