This is where it begins. We first meet Mal, an impoverished swordsman who has returned from the wars on the continent to find his family dispersed along with any wealth it may have had. His dark complexion gives him trouble, making others think him a foreigner. This is a theme that was played often in this story. It is just the kind of detail that makes the story even more engrossing. Through him we meet Ned, his friend and sometimes bedfellow. The bi-sexuality that is throughout the book is never in your face, but it is there. The underground nature of it, but still clearly a part of everyday life, is a pretty good portrayal of the sexual license of the time, but Lyle never overplays her hand with it. Ned is a good sort, and although his morals can be questioned at times, his heart is always in the right place.
Next we meet Coby Hendricks, a young girl who disguises herself as a boy. She does it to escape a future of poverty and prostitution when the rest of her family drowns on the way from Holland to England while escaping persecution. Through her eyes we explore the world of theatre as she finds work with local theatre group Suffolk’s Men as a tireman (costumer and dresser). When she meets Mal her world abruptly shifts.
The Skraylings are in London to negotiate a treaty. Their ambassador needs a local man to act as a bodyguard, and Mal is asked to fulfill the role. How he gets it is a great display of political intrigue (which there is a certain amount of going on in the book) and Mal’s ability to maneuver those around him. His position brings him in constant contact with the Skraylings, particularly the ambassador. What he finds out as they become closer, about not only who and what they are but also about himself leads him down a pathway from which he can never return. In fact, he worries that it may endanger his holy soul.