Here is a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of the novel:
Kanéko is a young girl who encounters a postal worker who views her brown skin with distaste. The worker has the letter which contains the results of her magical testing and she can’t wait to find out which magical powers she will eventually use. After her father’s smith, Jinmel, rescues her, she delivers the letter to her father, Ronamar, who reads it out-loud. But before he finishes, he storms off and Kanéko’s mother finished up the letter and announced that Kanéko has no magical power whatsoever.
Years later, Kanéko struggles to finish building a water screw using designed she ordered from the back of a magazine. However, the designs were not well-designed and she and Jinmel struggled to puzzle through understanding how mechanical devices work in her efforts to get the screen functional. She is in a hurry since she is suppose to be going on a month-long trip to the coast. The screw finally works, but Ronamar bitches her out for wasting her time on mechanical devices. Jinmel finished the screw but it ruptures and then explodes. Kanéko and Ronamar rescue him but then her father declares that she will never work on a device again.
Upset at her father’s declaration, Kanéko decides to hide her tools to prevent her father from stealing them. However in the process of doing so, Mioráshi, Kanéko’s mother, catches her and Kanéko has to lie about the tools in the chest, claiming the chest is actually her luggage for the trip.
After dragging her heavy chest to the mile marker outside her father’s tower, Kanéko hoped it hide it until she could return. That way, no one would find her tools until she returned. But, before she could find a place for her secret, she is interrupted by Waryoni Garèo. He uses telepathy to control horses and brought two of them with him. Garèo comments about the chest and she continues to lie about it, claiming that she was bringing it with her. He has to continue to Ronamar’s keep to pick up a wagon and Kanéko doesn’t come with him. As soon as he leaves, she repacks the chest to avoid anyone identifying the contents.
After Garèo retrieves a wagon for Kanéko’s luggage, they head toward Germudrir Sawmill to pick up his second student. Kanéko is in a foul mood because she doesn’t like Garèo but she is also curious and starts to ask questions. He dodges her question by mentioning a mechanical saw at the Germudrir Sawmill which they are going to pick up his second student, Maris.
At Germudrir Sawmill, Kanéko is introduced to a number of new concepts and to one of her traveling companions: Maris Germudrir. But, when she doesn’t think about what she is saying, she accidentally insults the daughter of the mill’s owner. They get into a fight which Garèo does nothing to stop. The fight is ended by Mamgum, Maris’s mother, who uses screaming powers to stop. After the fight, they mill sits down to lunch with Kanéko and Garèo. Kanéko slips away to investigate the saw and Maris’s father, Salcid, joins her to ask Kanéko to understand that Maris is loyal. Kanéko doesn’t care as she plans to run away to learn more about mechanical devices.
In Rock River, Kanéko notices Ojinkomàsu, Garèo’s horse that he never rides, had followed them to the city. When Garèo tries to stop the horse, Maris bolts off in the opposite direction calling Ruben. Garèo tells Kanéko to stop her. Kanéko uses a short cut to get ahead, but her attempts to stop Maris end up with whitewash being dumped on Maris’s head. Maris runs away to clean the mess and Kanéko followed reluctantly after Garèo orders her. Kanéko meets up with Ruben, a small person with strange eyes, and then Pahim, the boy that Maris had previously broken his arm. Pahim, unlike everyone else, is friendly to Kanéko and offers to take her in his wagon. She accepts even though Garèo doesn’t approve.