In a Shanghai of the future, John Percival Hackworth is a nanotech engineer on the rise when he steals a copy of A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer for his daughter Fiona. The primer is actually a super computer built with nanotechnology that was designed to educate Lord Finkle-McGraw's daughter and to teach her how to think for herself in the stifling neo-Victorian society. But Hackworth loses the primer before he can give it to Fiona, and now the "book" has fallen into the hands of young Nell, an underprivileged girl whose life is about to change.
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