Born in a shabby tenement in Victorian London, young Tom Bedlam is employed stoking the furnaces in a massive porcelain factory; he is son to a father he has never met, and sibling to a baby who vanished at birth. But in spite of these disadvantages, he is a positive spirit, cunning in his pursuit of love, unflinchingly loyal to his friends, and possessed of a deep, passionate soul. More than anything, he wishes to bring the loose strands of his estranged family together. After Tom's mother dies, a mysterious family benefactor appears who offers to pay for the boy's education. For a factory urchin this is good luck indeed, and Tom is whisked away to an exclusive private boarding school called Hammer Hall. The school is a crucible of variously privileged, predatory, meek, and noble boys, and although Tom gathers crucial clues there about his lost brother, he finds himself caught between warring forces and makes a Faustian pact that will haunt his adult life. As Tom becomes a man, his quest assumes grander proportions, a search for his lost innocence but an attempt to create the family he dreamed of in childhood. His experiences will challenge his decency and force him to weigh his character against the pitfalls of loyalty, patriotism, love, and familial duty.
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