London, the 1790s. Europe is in turmoil, and mysterious forces seem to be edging England into a disastrous war with France. Not quite at the center of the political maelstrom is James Tilly Matthews, a Welsh tea merchant and antiwar advocate who holds covert meetings with the leaders of both countries. But Matthews also believes his mind is being controlled by a gang of revolutionary "terrorists" and their diabolical secret machine called the Air Loom. The only man aware of the Air Loom's existence, Matthews is promptly declared mad and exiled to Bedlam, where he is held against his will for the rest of his life by order of England's home secretary, Lord Liverpool. At Bedlam his "delusions" are celebrated as the most complex and bizarre ever recorded, but the truth of his case is even stranger than his doctors realize: many of the incredible political episodes in which he claims to have been involved are entirely real.