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 man called 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 and other Grishas' 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 in it. 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, so Anya forces her way into the mind of Hoede 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 Jan Van Eck. He wants him to break Bo Yul-Bayur, a well-known scientist, out of a nearly impenetrable prison in the center of the castle complex in Fjerda. Yul-Bayur was captured because he helped develop a powerful variation on a street drug called jurda parem. The new drug enhances a Grisha's magical 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. He assembles a team of infamous, noteworthy criminals, each with a different skill set, to make the heist.
Kaz recruits Inej, Nina, Jesper, and Wylan, but there is one more person they need. They break Matthias out of Hellgate prison, where he has been held since Nina turned him in with false testimony about him being a slave trader. Every person in the group 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. He secretly books 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. They snag the stabber, and Kaz rips one of his eyes out of its socket 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. Wylan draws a map of the castle, prison, and other areas of the compound based on Matthias' description. Nina, a Grisha Heartrender, uses her magic to help heal Inej's wound.
The Ferolind docks at Fjerda, and the group begins the cold, icy 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.
Later, the group is attacked by Grisha under the influence of jurda parem. Nina recognizes one from her schooltime. With help from one of Wylan's bombs and Inej's knife-throwing, they kill the Grisha and 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 finally arrive in the beautiful, colorful city of Djerholm. The can see the majestic Ice Court castle on distant cliffs. They stay at an old tavern while in the city. From there they can see the castle gate and guards. They watch wagons come and go from the castle complex. Kaz says their way in is as prisoners in one of these wagons. They fell a tree, and it covers the road that a wagon is taking. They quickly switch places with the prisoners in the wagon, even assuming their shackles, while the drivers try to remove the tree from their path. They make it through the checkpoints and into the castle complex. The male and female prisoners are sent to separate parts of the castle prison, so the group is divided for the time being. They will time their movements to the chimes of the Elderclock.
Kaz has two lock picks taken from him by the guards, and Jesper reveals he is a Grisha when he forms two new picks from the iron on the prison bars. The guys escape, and Jesper and Matthias go in search of rope while Kaz and Wylan go to break the girls out of their cells. They are supposed to meet in the incinerator room, but Kaz and Nina go searching for Yul-Bayur. Nina doesn't find him but comes across a Grisha torture room. Greatly unnerved, she runs and bumps into two guards, and has to strangle them. One falls down the stairs, and his gun discharges.
The incinerator was used in the afternoon instead of in the morning like Matthias remembered, so it is still hot when Inej climbs up the inside of it. It even melts the soles of her slippers. Inej makes it to the top and drops the rope down. Everyone scrambles up except Jesper, who is waiting for Kaz.
Kaz is late getting back to the group because he's been searching for Pekka Rollins. He thought Pekka was also in pursuit of Yul-Bayur, and this was confirmed when they saw Pekka's men dead on the pyres. So Kaz assumed he must have been captured and placed in a cell somewhere at the Fjerdan castle. He thinks it's finally time for his long-awaited revenge. Just as Jesper begins to climb up the incinerator, Kaz appears, covered in blood.
Fjerdan Yellow Protocol has set in motion because of the gunshots made by the guards that Nina encountered when she went looking for Kaz. Black Protocol resets the plan, and Kaz decides the girls will sneak in the palace as guests and revelers arriving for the Fjerdan holiday called Hringkälla.
Inej and Nina go up through the ventilation to drop into a holding room for Menagerie girls. They steal the girls' clothes and papers, and Nina hastily gives herself and Inej the M tattoo with which all Menagerie girls are branded. When they emerge, they try to get past the guards who are scrutinizing each guest. Nina flirts her way through, but the guard thinks Inej's tattoo over the scar of her old one looks suspicious, so she gets sent to another line for people who need a second check. Nina proceeds on her own.
Kaz and Matthias are taking another route in, across the ice moat. Matthias knows the secret to crossing at water level thanks to his drüskelle initiation. Once they walk across on the glass bridge hidden just beneath the surface, 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 are entering from the roof. Jesper does a daring descent right above a group of guards' heads. Wylan has to cause a distraction when they almost spot his friend, so he starts singing the Fjerden national anthem, which he learned from his tutors back home. This distracts the guards enough that they can blindside them with an attack. Then Jesper and Wylan hurry into position. Their mission is to cut the rope on the winch controlling the main gate into the ice palace. It is tough because instead of a strong rope like they were expecting, the winch holds a metal chain. They have to find metal files and work as quickly as possible.
Nina gets to the party with the other Menagerie girls, and she is relieved to see Kaz and Matthias have made it, too. She is hit on by a couple Fjerdan men but sidesteps them, trying to find her perfect target. She is looking for a high ranking official who will most likely know where Yul-Bayur is being held and who is also tipsy enough to maybe spill the information. But she is surprised to turn and see the latest Fjerdan trying to get her attention, Jarl Brum. 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, and their hands are covered with blisters. Jesper hears the Elderclock chime and knows they should already be done. Not long after, they almost saw through the chain and begin to raise the gate. Jesper wonders whether the alarms are really going to go off as Matthias promised, and then suddenly they do. The bells of Black Protocol boom everywhere. After much struggle, the chain finally breaks completely.
Inej is still trying to get cleared through the new set of guards when the Menagerie madam, Heleen Van Houden, spots and identifies her. Just as Heleen explains that she now works for the criminal Kaz Brekker and that he must be here, too, they all hear the Black Protocol bells boom. The guards tell them no one is getting out of the complex tonight because the gate will be lowered according to Black Protocol.
Nina wonders if Brum recognizes her from over a year ago. She feels like he doesn't because she looks so different in this garb than she did as a dirty prisoner on the ship. She decides to take a chance and see if he's the one who will 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 a very secure location, the treasury, and she can't help but wonder if this is where Yul-Bayur is. It doesn't seem like it's a place for normal Grisha prisoners.
Brum says this is a former vault area that 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." She asks him to take her somewhere private, insinuating that he'll get his reward for showing her this. She plans on torturing him for info on Yul-Bayur's location. He leads her to a secluded room, but it's actually just another cell. He locks her inside and calls her by name; he has known who she is 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. Then 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 jurda parem so she will betray her own people and crave her next fix.
Matthias asks Brum about the scientist creating the jurda parem as they walk away from Nina's cell. Brum says as long as he cooperates, he will live. Matthias is very troubled by all of the Grisha being held there and finds out this has secretly been done to all convicted Grisha even before jurda parem because the Ice Court uses them for various purposes. And even though he had hoped for Nina to be locked up 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 Shu materialize out of thin air and basically vaporize the guards. They turn to Jesper and Wylan, and then Jesper calls on his own Grisha abilities with all of his might to defeat them.
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, can't bring themselves to harm this innocent boy who has been held captive based on his father's crimes. They ask him to destroy the lab, which he is happy to do. They discover he's Inferni, and he incinerates the lab using his Grisha powers. 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.
Kaz is there waiting for Matthias and Nina to exit the vault facility. Just when he sees them in the doorway with a young boy, an explosion knocks them all over the edge. Kaz grabs the boy and shoves a baleen pellet into his mouth as they fall into the icy moat. He bites down on his pellet and moves the boy's jaws to do the same. He is sure Matthias and Nina are doing the same. They have around ten minutes to breathe underwater thanks to this invention. Kaz hopes he has figured out the castle complex correctly – that it's built on a spring and the spring will carry them into the gorge below. As his ten minutes runs out and he's still underwater, his thoughts go to Inej. He wants to live to tell her that he wants to be a better man for her.
Inej is being whisked along a corridor by two guards. She sees two more coming toward them and decides to try to overtake them before it's four on one. But the two guards approaching are Jesper and Wylan in disguise, and they 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 gets through and swings trapeze-like on a chandelier to land on their prize – a tank. She shoots a cannon ball 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 takes over the guns with Inej's help. They're being fired on the whole time as they roll through the enclosure and then break through the wall.
Nina and Matthias emerge from the water and pull themselves onto the shore. Kuwei and Kaz wash up, too, but Kaz is unconscious. They have to 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 by firing the cannon, so the other tanks can't follow.
When they crest the hill by the harbor, they are met by row after row of Fjerdan troops. And they have one Grisha with them, a Heartrender high on jurda parem. They say they will attack Kaz and his friends if they don't release Kuwei to them. Nina thinks their only chance is for her to take jurda parem and fight fire with fire. The Grisha they have witnessed under jurda parem's influence have 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 the dose that Kuwei pulls from a pouch at his belt.
Nina attacks the Heartrender first and then takes control of all the Fjerdan soldiers at once. A group of drüskelle show up wearing clothing protecting them from Grisha. 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. She is now able to harm them but doesn't at Matthias' request. 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 to see if the effects of jurda parem withdrawal will set in. Nina tells Inej that with her current enhanced senses, she can hear Kaz's breath catch every time he looks at her. Kaz arrives and gets some time alone with Inej. He 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 or she won't have him at all. He doesn't respond.
Withdrawal sets in for Nina, her body aching all over, and Matthias is by her side the whole time. Jesper is feeling a little guilty that he didn't offer to take jurda parem, too. He wonders why he hasn't seen Wylan since they boarded the ship. He is happy when they spot the Ketterdam shore and gets in the longboat with Kaz to paddle to shore. They have a runner take a message to Van Eck and soon meet him at Vellgeluk, a small nearby island. He has the money for them but tries to double cross them. He has brought a group of flying Grisha high on jurda parem with him. He says none of them will leave the island, and he will destroy the Ferolind, which is docked nearby. Kaz says that Wylan stayed behind on the ship to care for Nina. He thinks that Van Eck won't want to harm his own son. Van Eck says he has always been ashamed of his son, who is illiterate, and was not upset when he recently left the family.
Van Eck orders his Grisha to destroy the ship anyway. But Kaz has a trick up his sleeve, too. The prisoner with them is not Kuwei; rather it is Wylan magically tailored to look like Yul-Bayur's son. Van Eck is insistent that they tell him where the real Kuwei Yul-Bo is. Kaz says only if they let 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 instantly that he's discovered Kaz's weakness. He commands his Grisha to grab the money and Inej, and they all fly away. Kaz and the whole group fight for her, but in the end Van Eck and his crew escape with Inej in tow.
Before he leaves, Van Eck says they have one week to bring him the real Kuwei or Inej will be tortured. Jesper is mad that Kaz asked Wylan to transform and mad at Wylan for following through with it. Kaz chastises Jesper for being the one who gave away their heist plans to Pekka Rollins, when he mentioned it during a card game before they left town. It was an innocent mistake but stupid at the same time. Kaz kept his plan for Wylan secret from Jesper as punishment. Suddenly Kaz's scheming face returns, and he says he's going to teach Van Eck a new trick that he'll never forget. He says he'll need the right crew to do it. Jesper, Wylan, and Matthias all agree to help.
The crew – including Nina and Kuwei, who had been in hiding during the exchange with Van Eck – pays Pekka Rollins a visit at his Emerald Palace Casino. Pekka owes Kaz a favor since Kaz let him escape instead of killing him back at the Fjerdan prison, and Kaz has come to collect. Kaz gives a vague summary of their situation and asks for two things: He needs to get a message to the Ravkan capital, fast, and he needs 200,000 kruge to fund their next heist. In return, Kaz will give 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 vows to kill Kaz if Van Eck doesn't do it.
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 walls, 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.
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 appearacnce is Zoya Nazyalensky.