When Thomas Rose discovers Ling, a young French girl who has run away from the circus, his life is suddenly and irrevocably changed...19th-century Lincolnshire: Thomas, who is dyslexic, has never met anyone remotely like Ling - wild, care-free, determined - and he falls in love. Ling's horse, Belladonna, has been stolen and Ling fears she is in the hands of the painter Mr George Stubbs, known for flailing horses to learn about their anatomy. When Thomas and Ling pay Stubbs a visit, they learn the true whereabouts of Belladonna, and Thomas is offered a job with Stubbs, who also teaches him to read and write. Thomas and Ling devise a plan to steal back Belladonna, knowing, if caught, Ling could pay with her life. Mary Finn's remarkable ability to paint with words is reminiscent of Tracy Chevalier; her love for horses, of Jane Smiley.