Almeyda, born on a Brazilian slave plantation, is seven when Father Tollinaire teaches her to read - though only the books that he allows, and only in the pronunciation he dictates. Like her mother, she becomes a house servant, spared the labour of the fields. But when the master offers the young virgin to his friends, her mother rebels - resulting in mother and daughter being separated and sold on. From plantation to plantation, Almeyda hears whispers, rumours of Palmares, a community of escaped slaves. It is said to have its own spy network, making raids on plantations, setting the slaves free. But can this promised land be real? And what price is paid for 'freedom'?