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Mare lives in a poor red blooded society called the Stilts, while the Silvers look down on them. Mare is currently the oldest child in her family. She lives with her younger sister Gisa and her parents. In order for Mare to provide money for her family she must pickpocket. But, soon she will be drafted because the reds are drafted into war against the Lakelanders at 18, unless they are apprenticed like Gisa.
Mare’s best friend, Kilorn is getting drafted and the guard is coming in a week. Kilorn’s master had fallen which made him incapable to continue Kilorn’s training to be a fisherman.
Mare is determined to help save Kilorn and prevent him from being drafted. Mare goes to bargain with a women named Farley who is apart of a rebellion called the Scarlet Guard. Farley offers to take Mare and Kilorn away, but at a price of 20,000 crowns.
Gisa agrees to help Mare steal 20,000 crowns by bringing her to Summertown. Mare plans to steal enough jewels and money from the Silvers to get her and Kilorn out. Suddenly an announcement is made saying a silver city has been attacked by a secret society known as the Scarlet Guard. Mare realizes that the women taking responsibility for these actions was Farley. As Gisa and Mare try to leave the now chaotic city, Gisa tries to pickpocket from a Silver. Gisa gets caught by a guard and has her hand broken for breaking the law, thus ending her apprenticeship.
Mare brings Gisa then runs away unable to face her parents and the guilt. She comes across an inn where she continues to pickpocket people. After a while she gets caught by a boy named Cal who surprisingly gives her money. Cal is very curious about Mare's life so she explains her situation as they walk towards her home together.
Mare returns back to her house to see her dad trying to fix the electricity in the house. She helps her dad try to fix the generator by toying with it. Mare pricks her finger on something and the power suddenly comes back to life. She then goes upstairs to read the letter her brother Shade had wrote and realizes he is part of the Scarlet Guard. Soon a Red servant who works for the king appears at their doorstep in search for Mare.
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