Cassandra Mortmain’s father is a famous writer; unfortunatley he has been suffering from writer’s block for years. Her mother is dead, but she has a lovely stepmother now in Topaz. She also has a younger brother Thomas, and and older sister, Rose. And then there is Stephen, who has grown up with them, not forgetting the dog Heloise and the cat Abelard. They live in a ruin of a castle in England, and have no income. Which means no money for clothes, repairs, rent, or food. They have sold everything worth selling. And then the two Cotton brothers arrive on the scene.