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Summary by Steve Wilson
Farmer Calvin Planter has a wife who is bed-ridden and can’t have children. He begins lusting after his slave women and the Unmaker soon appears to him, telling him to have children by them, saying that blacks are evil and the only way to make them Christians is by mingling their blood with that of a white. The mixed children will then be Christian because of the whiteness in them.
One of the young women gives birth and runs away to keep her child from growing up in slavery. Peggy, the sixteen-year-old Torch, sees her coming toward Hatrack and tells her father, Horace. He, Peggy, and Po Doggly go to meet the girl and child.
The girl dies and the Gesters decide to take in the child, saying that he belongs to the Berrys, a poor black family in town. They name him Arthur Stuart after the English king.
Rev. Philadelphia Thrower is staying in the Gester’s inn at the time and they try to keep what’s happening a secret from him.
The next day, Thrower and Peggy both leave Hatrack, not wanting to be there when Alvin arrives to begin his apprenticeship with Make-Peace Smith. Thrower is afraid of Alvin. Peggy loves him, but wants to avoid making him eventually propose to her out of obligation for her being his protector.
Peggy goes to live with Mistress Modesty, a woman with whom Horace had an affair years ago. Peggy knows about the affair because of her abilities as a Torch. Mistress Modesty teaches Peggy how to be a lady and educates her.
Meanwhile, Alvin arrives in Hatrack and introduces himself to the Gesters, reminding them that he was born in their house. He then starts his apprenticeship and soon becomes better than his master because of his knacks. He makes an enemy of Hank Dowser when Alvin corrects the man on where Make-Peace should dig a new well. Hank has pointed out a spot with too much bedrock blocking the actual source of water. Alvin digs the well in another place instead and Hank feels insulted that Alvin didn’t follow his instructions.
Peggy returns to Hatrack, disguised with the use of hexes, as Margaret Larner. She has been contracted to be the town teacher. Alvin is in town picking up raw metal for the smith when he sees some men, Mike Fink among the loudest, talking dirty to the new teacher. Alvin stands up to them and fights Mike. Alvin has to remove the hex of protection Mike’s mother placed on him in order to hurt him. Alvin breaks Mike’s legs to end the fight, but then heals them to prevent permanent damage.
Alvin takes Peggy to the Gesters’. She will be living in their spring house. Old Peg asks Peggy to tutor Arthur Stuart since he isn’t allowed to attend the regular white school. Alvin also asks to be tutored and Peggy accepts them both.
Years later, Rev. Thrower becomes friends with Cavil Planter and begins helping him impregnate slave women. He also tells him about the night Arthur Stuart was born and Cavil sends slave finders to identify the boy and bring him back to the plantation. They will be able to do this by matching a snippet of hair Cavil saved from the newborn to the boy they find in Hatrack. It is a knack to be able to find and match a person based on hair or skin shavings.
Meanwhile, Alvin decides to make a plow for his journeyman piece, the work that will prove he is ready to leave Make-Peace’s forge and work for himself. He wants to not only make the plow, which is easy enough, but to turn into living gold.
The slave finders show up while the plow is still in iron form, however, and take Arthur Stuart. Horace takes Alvin and his friend, Po Doggly (Horace and Po used to help runaway slaves get to Canada together) to get Arthur back.
Alvin changes Arthur’s body at the atomic level so that the finders can’t match Arthur’s cells to their samples anymore and takes him home. He then turns the plow into living gold. Margaret finds him and they declare their love for one another.
At the same time, the finders come looking for Arthur and old Peg shoots one of them, and then is shot by the other. Margaret reveals herself to Peggy when she cries out for her mother.
Alvin chases down the surviving slave finder and kills him.
When Make-Peace sees the golden plow, he wants to go into business with Alvin, but Alvin refuses to his knack for profit. Make-Peace becomes angry and claims the plow belongs to him. When Alvin shows him it is alive, Make-Peace becomes scared and kicks Alvin out.
The sheriff advises Alvin to leave town with Arthur before others come to arrest him for the murder of the slave finder. Peggy refuses to go with Alvin right now, so Alvin takes Arthur to Vigor Church.
There, Alvin realizes that his brother, Calvin, also has a knack for making and tries to teach him, but Calvin resents Alvin for coming home and taking all the attention away from him since Alvin is a better Maker than Calvin.
Alvin does succeed in teaching his other brother, Measure, a bit about Making.
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