To Kayte—secret weapon, unexpected friend
Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can't pull it off alone...
A convict with a thirst for revenge.
A sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager.
A runaway with a privileged past.
A spy known as the Wraith.
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.
Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz's crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don't kill each other first.
A guard named Joost is making his rounds around the city. He decides to visit his crush, Anya, who is a Grisha Healer indentured to Councilman Hoede. When Joost arrives at Hoede's Grisha workshop, another Grisha, Retvenko, tells him that Anya was taken away by Hoede. When Joost starts asking questions about Anya's disappearances, the Squaller shows Joost the door. Joost meets a few other stadwatch guards, who tell him that they are supposed to report to the boathouse.
At the boathouse, Joost is greeted by an upsetting sight: Anya is in a glass room with a young boy and a guard. The guard proceeds to slice open the boy's arm, and Anya heals the boy. Then Anya is given a small, wax paper envelope and is forced to swallow a drug called jurda parem. When the guard slices the boy's arm again, Anya heals him without touching him. Afterward, Hoede tells the guard to chop off the boy's thumb, but Anya controls Hoede's mind and causes the merchant to chop off his own thumb, demonstrating the powerful effect of jurda parem on Grisha.
Gang leader Kaz Brekker is offered the job of a lifetime by wealthy merchant Jan Van Eck. Van Eck wants Kaz to break Bo Yul-Bayur, a Shu scientist, out of a nearly impenetrable prison in the center of the castle complex in Fjerda. Yul-Bayur developed a powerful drug called jurda parem, which enhances a Grisha's abilities and is highly addictive after just one dose. Kaz is offered a hefty paycheck and negotiates it up even higher to thirty million kruge, then agrees.
Kaz assembles a team of infamous, noteworthy criminals, each with a different skill set, to make the heist. Inej Ghafa, Nina Zenik, Jesper Fahey, and Wylan Van Eck are all members of his gang, but there is one more person they need. They break Matthias Helvar out of the prison Hellgate, where he was held for a year after Nina falsely accused him of being a slave trader. Every person in the crew has secrets and a backstory that slowly unfolds throughout the book.
Kaz thinks his team needs to move quickly against their target, and they plan as they travel. Kaz sets up passage to Fjerda for his team on a ship called the Ferolind. They are ambushed the night they are at the docks to board, and Inej is stabbed, nearly fatally. They bring the stabber aboard the ship as they escape and Kaz tortures him to get him to talk. They discover that Pekka Rollins is the one behind the attack and might also be on his way to Fierda to try to rescue Yul-Bayur. This makes Kaz feel even more urgency to get there and get the job done soon. On the ship, Wylan draws a map of the Ice Court and its prison based on Matthias' description. Nina, a Grisha Heartrender, helps heal Inej's wound.
The Ferolind docks in northern Fjerda and the group begins the cold trek on foot to the Ice Court. Kaz is planning and plotting as they travel. Matthias is grudgingly impressed by the plan Kaz has developed, but hopes at some point to separate from the group and kill Yul-Bayur so the Grisha he was raised to hate will never have enhanced powers again. On their hike, they come across three Grisha that some have been tied to stakes and burned on a pyre, though poorly; the wind extinguished the fire and one of them is still alive. Jesper shoots the Grisha, putting them out of their misery, but Kaz berates him for revealing their position to potential enemies.
The group is attacked by Grisha under the influence of jurda parem. Nina recognizes one from her time at the Little Palace. With help from Wylan's bombs and Inej's throwing knives, they kill the Grisha; Nina, horrified by what has happened, insists on burying them. Matthias stays behind to help her while the others continue on. While alone, Matthias and Nina strike a deal. Neither one wants Yul-Bayur to live; Matthias doesn't want Grisha to have the power jurda parem can give them, and Nina doesn't want her people to suffer the harm of its side effects, so they agree that Yul-Bayur must be killed, rather than captured and delivered to Van Eck.
They arrive in the beautiful, colorful city of Djerholm, where they can see the majestic Ice Court on distant cliffs. From the rooftop terrace of an old tavern in the city, they can see the road to the Ice Court and watch prison wagons go to the castle complex. Kaz says their way in is as prisoners in one such wagon. They fell a tree to block the road ahead of a wagon. They quickly switch places with the prisoners in the wagon, assuming their shackles and hoods, while the drivers try to remove the tree from their path. Kaz faints, but they make it through the checkpoints and into the Ice Court. The male and female prisoners are sent to separate parts of the castle prison, dividing the group for a time. They will time their movements to the chimes of the Elderclock.
Kaz's has lockpicks are taken from him by the guards, and Jesper reveals he is a Fabrikator when he forms two new picks from the iron of the prison bars. The boys escape their holding cell; Jesper and Matthias retrieve rope from the stables while Kaz and Wylan break the girls out of their cells. They are supposed to meet in the laundry and incinerator room, but Kaz and Nina go searching for Yul-Bayur. Nina does not find him, but she comes across a Grisha torture room. Greatly unnerved, she runs and bumps into two guards, and has to use her powers to subdue them. One falls down the stairs, and his gun discharges, setting off the Yellow Protocol alarms.
The incinerator was used in the afternoon instead of in the morning as Matthias had remembered. It is still burning hot when Inej scales the inside of it, melting her shoes. She almost gives up, but rain begins to fall, cooling her and allowing her to make it to the top. She drops the rope down and everyone climbs up except Jesper, who is waiting for Kaz. Kaz is late reuniting with the group because was searching for Pekka Rollins. He believed Pekka was also in pursuit of Yul-Bayur, which was confirmed when they saw Pekka's men dead on pikes outside the Ice Court. Kaz wants to see if Pekka had captured, wondering if it is finally time for his long-awaited revege; Kaz does find him in a cell. Just as Jesper begins to climb up the incinerator shaft, Kaz appears, covered in blood.
They planned to arrive in the palace as guests for the Fjerdan holiday Hringkälla, but the alarms of Yellow Protocol force a change in their plans. Inej suggests the girls sneak in the palace as members of the Menagerie, and Kaz outlines a new plan. Inej and Nina go through the ventilation to a dressing room, where they steal the Menagerie girls' clothes and papers. Nina hastily gives herself and Inej the peacock tattoo with which all Menagerie girls are marked. Nina flirts her way through the checkpoint onto the White Island, but the guard thinks Inej's tattoo over the scar of her old one looks suspicious and sends her to another line for people who need a second check. Nina proceeds on her own.
Kaz and Matthias take another route to the White Island across the ice moat. Matthias knows the secret glass bridge thanks to his drüskelle initiation; once they cross, Kaz picks a lock and they're in. There are several guards in the hallway, and they disable them and take their uniforms and guns.
Meanwhile, Jesper and Wylan enter from the roof. Jesper descends above a group of guards' heads, and Wylan has to distract them by singing the Fjerdan national anthem when they almost spot Jesper. They attack the guards, dress in their uniforms, and hurry to the gate. Their mission is to cut the rope on the winch controlling the gate, but instead of the expected strong rope, the winch holds a metal chain. Wylan saws at the chain with shears while Jesper uses his Fabrikator power to weaken the links.
Nina reaches the palace and is relieved to see Kaz and Matthias have made it, too. She sidesteps the Fjerdan men who hit on her, trying to find a high ranking official who will know where Yul-Bayur is being held and who is tipsy enough to tell her. Jarl Brum gets her attention: he is the drüskelle leader who supposedly drowned over a year ago in the shipwreck which she and Matthias survived.
It has been slow going for Jesper and Wylan. Jesper hears the Elderclock chime and knows they should already be done, but not long after, they are able to raise the gate, setting off the bells of Black Protocol. After Jesper and Wylan escape the courtyard, the chain finally breaks completely, closing the gate behind them.
Inej, detained by the guards, is identified by Heleen Van Houden, the owner of the Menagerie. Just as Heleen explains that Inej is not a Menagerie girl and instead works for the criminal Kaz Brekker and that he must be here, too, they all hear the bells of Black Protocol. The guards tell them no one is getting out of the complex tonight and haul Inej to the prison sector.
Nina hopes Brum does not recognize her from the ship over a year ago, since she looks so different in Menagerie clothes than she did as a dirty prisoner. She decides to take a chance and see if he can reveal Yul-Bayur's location to her. She acts like she wants to see a Grisha in person, and he offers to escort her away to show her one. He takes her to the treasury, the most secure location in the Ice Court, and she wonders if this is where Yul-Bayur is.
Brum explains that the former vault is now used as a laboratory. The hallway in the lab is filled with cells sealed with white doors with a window on each. Each cell holds a young Grisha obviously dosed up on jurda parem. Brum calls them "the future." Nina asks him to take her somewhere private, insinuating that he will get a reward, but really plans on torturing him for info on Yul-Bayur's location. He leads her to a secluded room, but it is actually just another cell. Brum locks her inside and reveals he knew who she was all along. He threatens to push the button to release jurda parem in gaseous form but then says there's someone else with much more reason than he to take vengeance on her. Matthias' face appears in the window on the door. He says he found Brum as soon as he was able, and he's anxious to see Nina dosed with parem so she will betray her own people.
As they walk away from Nina's cell, Matthias asks Brum about the scientist creating the parem. Brum says as long as the scientist cooperates, he lives. Matthias is deeply troubled by the Grisha being held there and finds out Brum has secretly kept and experimented on all convicted Grisha even before jurda parem. Even though he had hoped for Nina to be imprisoned for a long time, Matthias is surprised by the pain that he feels now that it's done. He asks about Yul-Bayur, and Brum reveals he is held here in the lab, behind a door opened only by the key around his neck.
Brum says he'll show him to Matthias soon, but he must first make sure the Black Protocol was properly administered. He promises he will get Matthias reinstated as a drüskelle. Matthias thinks back over how Brum took him in when he was an orphan and trained him to be the dutiful, loyal drüskelle he used to be. Then he thinks about how that all changed when he met Nina. After spending time with her, his hate for Grisha vanished when he realized how human and good she is. Matthias embraces his mentor and then uses a sleeper hold to render him unconscious. This new plan had formed in the ballroom when Matthias saw Brum recognize and then approach Nina. Kaz thought they could save Nina and at the same time use Brum to get Yul-Bayur. Matthias drags Brum into a cell, takes the key from around his neck, and locks the door behind him. He leaves to go rescue Nina.
Jesper and Wylan encounter guards just as several Tidemakers materialize out of thin air and draw the blood out of the guards. They begin to do the same to Jesper and Wylan, but Jesper manages to kill them with his own Grisha ability.
Matthias and Nina make it to the vault and find Yul-Bayur's son, Kuwei Yul-Bo, who says his father was killed in a battle between the Fjerdans and the Kerch. Nina and Matthias, despite their original intention to kill Bo Yul-Bayur, decide not to kill this innocent boy who has been held captive based on his father's actions. They ask Kuwei to destroy the lab, which he does, revealing he is an Inferni. His father, who was also Grisha, accidentally developed jurda parem when he was trying to develop a potion to hide their abilities and keep them safe.
Matthias and Nina exit the vault facility with Kuwei but are stopped by drüskelle. Kaz, dressed as a drüskelle, uproots the sacred ash tree in the center of the Ice Court and drags himself, Nina, Matthias, and Kuwei into the hole. They activate their baleen pellets, which give them about ten minutes of breathable air underwater, as they fall into the icy moat. Kaz hopes he has figured out the Ice Court complex correctly—that it is built on a spring, and the river will carry them into the gorge below. As his ten minutes runs out and they are still underwater, his thoughts go to Inej. He realizes he wants to live to tell her that he wants to be a better man for her.
Inej is taken down the prison corridor by two guards. She sees two more coming toward them and decides to try to overtake them, but the two approaching guards reveal themselves to be Jesper and Wylan in disguise, who easily take down the two guards who were escorting her. The three of them work to drill their way through Grisha-made glass using a drill built by Wylan and a diamond Inej stole from Heleen back at the celebration. Guards are banging on the doors trying to get in. When they make a small hole, Inej jumps through and swings trapeze-like on a chandelier to land on a tank. She shoots a cannonball at the glass to break the rest; Wylan and Jesper swing on ropes through the hole and onto the tank. Jesper takes over driving, and Wylan helps Inej with the guns. They roll through the enclosure and then break through the wall while the Fjerdan army tries to stop them.
Nina, Matthias, and Kuwei emerge from the river and pull themselves to shore. Kaz is unconscious, and Nina and Matthias revive him. They hear something coming in the distance and hope it's their friends in the tank. It is, but they are being pursued by many more tanks. They take out the bridge with their cannon so the other tanks can't follow.
They drive the tank through Djerholm, but when they crest the hill by the harbor, they see hundreds of Fjerdan troops and one Heartrender on parem. The Fjerdans say they will attack Kaz's crew unless they release Kuwei to them. Nina thinks their only chance is for her to take parem and fight fire with fire. The Grisha they have witnessed become hopelessly addicted after just one dose, with ultimately fatal withdrawal symptoms, so her friends try to talk her out of it, but she knows it's the only way. Nina takes a dose from Kuwei.
Nina kills the Heartrender first and then takes control of all the Fjerdan soldiers at once, but a group of drüskelle show up wearing clothing protecting them from her Heartrender powers. They shoot Matthias in the chest, and Nina immediately heals him. They shoot Nina repeatedly, and she heals herself over and over. She uses the soldiers under her control to take off all of the drüskelle's protective clothing, leaving them vulnerable to her power. However, at Matthias' request she refrains from killing them. The group boards the Ferolind and takes off out of the harbor.
They make it safely to the open sea, and the group anxiously watches Nina while Kuwei explains the effects of jurda parem withdrawal. Nina tells Inej that with her current enhanced senses, she can hear Kaz's breath catch every time he looks at her. Alone with Inej, Kaz asks what she will do with her share of the money. She says she will buy a boat, get a crew, and learn how to sail. He asks her to stay with him instead. She says he has to shed his armor for her to be in a relationship with him; he doesn't respond and Inej leaves.
Withdrawal sets in for Nina, her body aching all over, and Matthias is by her side the whole time. Jesper feels guilty that he did not offer to take parem to help Nina and wonders why he hasn't seen Wylan since they boarded the ship. When they spot Ketterdam, Jesper, Kaz, and Rotty take a longboat to shore and send a runner to take a message to Van Eck.
They meet Van Eck on Vellgeluk, a small nearby island. He has the money but double crosses them, revealing his group of Tidemakers and Squallers on parem, and says none of them will leave the island. Kaz stops him from destroying the Ferolind, saying that his son Wylan stayed behind on the ship. However, Van Eck does not care about the life of his son: he has always been ashamed of his Wylan, who is illiterate, and has his Grisha destroy the ship anyway.
But Kaz has a trick up his sleeve, too. Kuwei is not on Vellgeluk with them; rather, it is Wylan tailored to look like Yul-Bayur's son. Van Eck insists they tell him where the real Kuwei Yul-Bo is, but Kaz says only if he lets them safely off the island with their money. Van Eck gives the order to kill everyone except Kaz. He then sees Kaz glance at Inej for just a second, and realizes she is Kaz's weakness. His flying Squallers capture Inej, Van Eck's men grab the money, and they escape the island with Inej in tow. He announces they have one week to bring him the real Kuwei or Inej will be tortured.
Jesper is furious that Kaz did not tell him about Wylan's transformation and confused by Wylan's willingness to follow through with it. Kaz is furious that Jesper let Pekka Rollins learn about their heist plans before they left town. Jesper did not realize his mistake, and Kaz kept his plan for Wylan secret from Jesper as punishment. Stuck on Vellgeluk with no Inej and no money, Kaz begins to create a new scheme to target Van Eck.
Kaz, Jesper, Matthias, Wylan and Nina pay Pekka Rollins a visit at the Emerald Palace. Pekka owes Kaz a favor since Kaz let him escape instead of killing him back at the Ice Court prison, and Kaz has come to collect. Kaz gives a vague summary of their situation and asks for two things: a fast message to the Ravkan capital and 200,000 kruge to fund their next plan. In return, Kaz gives Pekka his shares in the Crow Club and Fifth Harbor. Pekka complies. Before he leaves, Kaz mentions that he doesn't think Pekka remembers him at all. Pekka says he doesn't but asks if he should. Kaz says not yet, and Pekka can see the hatred in his eyes for just a second. Pekka watches the crew leave his casino, and once they are out the door he realizes that he is missing everything valuable that was on his person: his pocket watch, his wallet, his tie pin, his coin pendant, and the gold buckles on his shoes. Pekka hopes Van Eck kills Kaz.
Also known as "Dirtyhands", Kaz Brekker is effectively the leader of the Dregs, one of the gangs in the Barrel, in Ketterdam, Kerch. He has a fearsome reputation of doing anything and everything to get what he wants, and he doesn't care who he has to knock down on the way. Kaz has a vendetta against Pekka Rollins for taking his money and causing the death of his brother, Jordie Rietveld. Kaz has also developed a phobia of skin on skin contact, and always wears black leather gloves, leading to a proliferation of rumors about his hands.
Also known as the 'Wraith', Inej Ghafa is a spy for the Dregs. She is a Suli girl whose father trained her in acrobatics. She can scale buildings, walk on a tightrope, spy on people, and break in and out of buildings.
When Inej was fourteen, she was kidnapped by slavers and brought to Kerch, where she was sold to the Menagerie (also called The House of Exotics), a brothel owned by Tante Heleen. Inej suffered beatings by Tante Heleen at the Menagerie and was forced to wear the Suli silks as she was sold to customers. She unknowingly signed a contract written in Kerch for her service at the Menagerie, and at the time, Inej only spoke Suli. She was rescued from the contract by Kaz Brekker, who came to the Menagerie and paid off her "debts" to Tante Heleen. He trained her to kill, pick locks, and build a reputation for her new moniker, the "Wraith".
Inej uses knives that she has named after saints, all of which are hidden on her body in various places. Sankt Petyr, her first knife (given to her by Kaz Brekker), is hidden on her right hand; Sankta Alina is hidden on her left. Sankta Marya and Sankta Anastasia are hidden on her thighs, Sankt Vladimir in one of her boots, and Sankta Lizabeta is hidden on her belt.
The 'sharpshooter' of the crew, Jesper Fahey, is a talented marksman. Jesper moved to Kerch from Novyi Zem, where he worked with his father on their farm. While in Novyi Zem, he worked under a blacksmith and was a university student. He has a gambling habit, which led to him dropping out of school when he got into debts. Jesper is friendly, witty, and sarcastic, a bright and talkative young man.
It is later revealed in the novel that Jesper is a Fabrikator. His father had encouraged him to suppress his powers, fearing for his son's safety should his Grisha status become known. In Crooked Kingdom, it is implied that his accuracy in shooting can be enhanced by his Fabrikator powers.
Nina is a Grisha and one of the Corporalki, and trained at the Little Palace to become a Heartrender. She accelerated her training to become part of the Second Army, and worked with Zoya Nazyalensky to track down the Grisha and help them hide their powers to avoid capture by the drüskelle, Fjerdan witch hunters. However, Nina was captured by Matthias Helvar, another drüskelle, and was put on a ship to Fjerda. She and Matthias managed to escape in a storm, and she saved his life. They journeyed together and became allies, but ended up splitting up when Nina turned him in to Kerch officials on charges of slavery in an attempt to protect him from Grisha spies who would have brought him back to Ravka.
Afterwards, Nina left to Ketterdam, plotting to break Matthias out, and was contracted by Kaz Brekker to work at the House of the White Rose. Up until she became part of the group, she charged people for use of her Heartrender powers.
Matthias is a Fjerdan soldier—a drüskelle. He was put into Hellgate after being falsely accused by Nina of being a slave trader. Years in confinement have made him cold and brutal, hateful and unforgiving, his only will to continue living being his wish for revenge against the woman who betrayed him. After being liberated by the Dregs, he slowly warmed up not only to Nina but to all of the Dregs, and ends up being a pivotal member on their journey to complete their mission.
Wylan Van Eck is the son of Jan Van Eck. He joins the team rescuing Bo Yul-Bayur from the Ice Court because of his knowledge in demolitions and his use as a hostage in negotiating the reward. Wylan was unable to learn to read, and left his father's house after suffering verbal abuse and neglect. After some time living on his own, he joined the Dregs. He has lived a sheltered, privileged life compared to the rest of gang, and is not as accustomed to the violence that they regularly experience.
- Inej's hidden blade, Sankta Alina, is named after the main protagonist of the Grisha Trilogy.
- In Kerch, easy marks are referred to as "pigeons". In the Slovak translation of the book, Kaz and the other members of the Dregs refer to their marks and the people they're planning to rob as "geese to pluck". The verb "to pluck" ("oškubať") is commonly used in Slovak as a slang expression for "to rob someone of something".
- Prior to the book's release, Leigh Bardugo hinted at a cameo from a character from the Shadow and Bone trilogy. The character to make this appearance is Zoya Nazyalensky.