Charmain is a young woman, or possibly a teenager, who lives with her parents in the town of High Norland. She is the only child of the town's best baker, and has grown up rather spoiled, in that she has no useful skills at all, and few interests other than books and reading.
Charmain's mother, however, has raised her to be respectable above all things -- something Charmain's not that wild about, but since she spends most of her time reading, she hasn't had to worry much about it, other than wearing her hair in a respectable way and always dressing in the most respectable possible clothing.
One day Charmain's great-aunt Sempronia sweeps into the house to announce to Charmain and her mother that her "uncle William" is just about to go off to have an illness seen to by some elves, and therefore needs someone to look after his house while he is away. Sempronia has told uncle William that her niece-by-marriage Charmain will do it, having nothing better to do, so it seems to be a settled thing. Uncle William, otherwise known as Wizard Norland, is a sorceror, in fact the Royal Sorceror, which seems to offer interesting possibilities in the way of books.
Charmain's mother is aghast, wondering if the whole plan is quite respectable, but Charmain looks forward to a kind of vacation from home pressures. She thinks of this as an opportunity to do nothing but read for days on end.
Having packed, and collected a large bag of food items from the bakery, Charmain's parents send her off in a carriage to Great-uncle William's house, which turns out to be very small and unimportant-looking.
Apprentices and Magical CreaturesEdit
During Charmain's time in Great-Uncle William's very unusual house, Charmain is surprised to meet a number of magical and semi-magical creatures, one of whom (the Lubbock) is extremely malevolent. Another, a young man of about her own age named Peter Regis, has come because his mother arranged for him to become the sorceror's apprentice, although, it's not clear that Great-Uncle William realized that he was coming just then.
Charmain is forced to learn a great many practical lessons about basic magic, dishwashing, laundry, and navigating both the many ways around the house, and the multiplicity of ways into the city. She even arranges a job for herself, and meets some interesting and appealing new friends, and a few enemies.