When young professor of English Karen Holloway happens on a privately printed volume of verse dating from the early nineteenth century, it's all in a day's work. But when a battered manuscript bearing the same mysterious attribution, Ismene, turns up, Karen realizes that it is an important discovery that could be the making of her academic career. Karen immerses herself in a headlong search for the true identity of the unknown author, tracking the provenance of the manuscript to Virginia's historic Tidewater region. She is not alone in her quest; academic rivals shadow her steps, trying to gain possession of the valuable manuscript, and the locals are more inquisitive about her activities than seems natural. Fortunately, Karen has the help of her eccentric and able mentor, Peggy, whose historical expertise proves to be invaluable. And, as she painstakingly deciphers the crabbed, charred pages, she begins to wonder whether she has the assistance of Ismene herself. Is the tale of Gothic horror that Ismene tells not a novel but a memoir, the very possession of which may jeopardize Karen's life? Ismene's legacy calls out from the past, from an eerie world fraught with terrifying impressions of fire and ice that will not die until the painful truths that inhabit houses of stone are revealed.