After the technological catastrophes that ended the civilizations of both the First and Second Men, the world turned away from science and machines. In England, the reigning Luddite church—named after Ned Ludd, a nineteenth century textile machinery saboteur— punishes the heresies of experimentation and technical innovation with death. More broadly, the country has returned to a medieval, peasant economy with a loose federation of nobles controlling the disunited nation and skilled trades governed by a rigid apprenticeship program.
Kieron, the protagonist, is taken on by Master Hobart, the artist serving the local ruler, Lord Fitzalan. Kieron’s dream is to construct a flying machine. Hobart sympathizes with Kieron but counsels patience and circumspec-tion. It is not his scientific penchant, however, but his dislike of the caste system that first leads Kieron to trouble. When Lord Fitzalan’s spoiled daughter Aylwin, whom Kieron is assigned to sketch, repeatedly and publicly humiliates him, he loses his temper and spanks her. He is imprisoned, and only Aylwin’s intervention spares him worse treatment. Aylwin, in truth, has fallen in love with the boy and becomes his ally, protecting him against the church when his building of manned kites is discovered.
Even Aylwin cannot protect Kieron, however, when his next creation, a hot-air balloon, explodes over the castle. It seems that nothing can save him from the Inquisition until two events...
(The entire section is 513 words.)