Maevens Ash and Orm's continued search for Ash's parents bring them to the country of Stavmo, a civilization whose power is based on steam.
Steam cars, whirlybirds, and small appliances, even guns, are all powered by steam... but at a cost.
A huge factory has toxic smoke billowing into the air, and only the rich are able to escape the smell by living on the opposite side of town. Class is based on your hair color, and if your hair isn't red like the dictator who runs the country, you vanish into the mines or are thrown into the volcano. The volcano holds even greater secrets, and maybe a link to Ash's family.
The magical pair make friends with the rebels and try to help them fight for their rights, but in doing so they get separated and place themselves in danger.
Immediately prior to her first year at Spires Magic College, Ash discovers her parents adopted her as a toddler. This explains her silver purple hair which sets her apart from her peers. Despite working hard at her studies, the Spires magic seems wrong to her and the maeven consider her style of magic to be alien and some of them try to expel her. Ash is compulsively drawn to the ruined North Spire but students are not allowed anywhere near this ruin. She believes the broken spire holds the answer to her origins, but doesn’t want to get thrown out of Spires for breaking the rules.
Her boyfriend Orm, another talented student, promises to help her enter the North Spire at the end of their time at Spires, but will Ash’s alien magic get her expelled before then and end her dreams of discovering her past?
Maevens Ash and Orm continue their search for her family in Banneret. Orm is attacked and instinctively teleports away leaving Ash behind. Chains prevent her using her magic. Genoa, the Kings Advisor, is convinced she can do magic and tries to discover her secret. Further problems arise when the King takes an unhealthy interest in her. To escape she must force her magic past the chains, but this results in a loss of her magic and her memory.
Orm has made friends with an Outlander who helps him to look for traces of Ash’s family. The search takes them to the land of the little people, and the far western shores where they discover a colossus hiding in a cave. By the time they return to the Kings Keep to rescue Ash, she has already escaped–but where is she and will they be able to find her before the King's men recapture her?