The story moves back and forth in time from the arrival of Thea from her isolated village in arctic Norway in search of a new life in the near wilderness of a small town and logging camp on the shore of Lake Superior to the travails of her orphaned son, Odd, some twenty years later. When Thea’s aunt and uncle do not meet her boat as planned, she’s initially left abandoned with no money or prospects and without speaking the language. Befriended by a local businessman and apothecary with secrets of his own, she obtains work as a cook in the nearby logging camp. While living through one of the coldest and threatening winters in memory, she is raped by an itinerant peddler and petty criminal. She delivers the baby in a blinding snowstorm the next fall, attended by her original benefactor and his daughter” who is also the town’s surgeon and midwife, but she soon dies of childbirth complications. The apothecary, Grimm, takes the infant into his household and the boy is raised more or less by the entire town, eventually growing up under Grimm’s influence to be a fisherman, smuggler for Grimm’s whiskey trade, and a boat builder. Still, he struggles to find himself and to reconcile the loss of his mother, and he becomes increasingly troubled by Grimm’s criminal enterprises and dirty secrets until an unlikely love affair puts everything on a collision course.