This fourth book in the Poldark series is really about Dwight and Caroline’s affair and the almost-breakup of Ross and Demelza over Elizabeth, rather than George Warleggan.
After Francis’s failed suicide attempt he tries to pass an olive branch to Ross to make amends on his deceit and involvement in the failure of Ross’s Carnmore Copper Company, by sinking his last £600 into a mine as a joint venture. The venture fails and Francis dies horribly inside the mine. Meantime, Elizabeth has confessed to Ross that she had always had feelings for him and she regretted having married Francis. Demelza’s female intuition picks up warning at that fateful dinner when they are all last together.
When Francis dies suddenly Elizabeth is free and Ross is thrown into confusion what he should do about the confession of love Elizabeth had made and he deals with it in his typical Ross fashion by ignoring it and seeing as little of Elizabeth as possible. Without a husband to bring in income Elizabeth’s fortunes dwindle and into the void steps in opportunistic and rich George offering her marriage and comforts for the rest of her days.
Ross feels guilty and sells his share in the mine and returns the £600 to Elizabeth to tide her over. With the mine’s failure, Ross and Demelza face the real threat of debtors prison and even their smuggling money dries up when the smuggling operation gets caught by the customs and excise men. On the same night the smugglers get caught, Dwight and Caroline had planned to elope and Dwight makes a fateful choice to save his friend Ross and the community from prison and stands up Caroline who leaves Cornwall and Dwight for good.
At the very last-minute, Ross is saved by a mystery benefactor who stops him and his family from reaching poverty and debtors prison. News suddenly comes to him that Elizabeth will marry George and he rushes headlong to Trenwith in the middle of the night and rapes her. This effectively breaks up any illusion he had about Elizabeth his first love and breaks the relationship with her for good and simultaneously also break his relationship with Demelza, his wife. Demelza tries to get her revenge by going to a ball by herself and encourages a tryst with the handsome soldier who tried to arrest Ross for smuggling, but she just can’t lower herself to sleep with him at the last minute and returns to Ross. Demleza and Ross have a strained relationship for months where neither speaks of what happened.
It’s a testing time for both Dwight and Caroline as well as Ross and Demelza but all works out well for both couples after much trouble. George really is the only one who has a smooth journey in this book when he finally marries his prized possession Elizabeth, the most beautiful woman in Cornwall, and moves himself into the Poldark ancestral home Trenwith and renovates it beyond recognition into another gaudy Warleggan house.
This is the most action packed book so far of the series and casts Ross is poor light with his action towards Elizabeth. He redeems himself in the end when he reunites Caroline and Dwight.