In 1924, Yale student John Lars Nelson takes ship on the SS Victoria, bound for Nome. He has been hired to do a plant survey, but his real mission is to find an orchid described by Georg Wilhelm Steller, the naturalist on Vitus Bering’s 1741 expedition. On the ship, John Lars encounters a young Aleut woman, Natasha Christiansen. Once in Nome he hires a pair of down-at-the-heels bootleggers to take him to the Shumagin Islands on their schooner, the Emilia Galotti. He quickly discovers that the two are not what they first seemed. In Bristol Bay he again encounters Natasha and she joins them but she and John are marooned shortly thereafter. They cross the Alaskan Peninsula on foot and then in a borrowed skiff reach Nagai Island, where Bering made his landfall two centuries before. They find the Emilia there, along with another ship, and the hunt for the orchid brings to a violent resolution an intrigue started many years before.