Chapter 1: Joost 

A guard named Joost is patrolling the home of Councilman Hoede, a wealthy merchant. Joost is imagining how he might compliment his crush, Anya, who is a Grisha, a person with magical powers. Anya, like many Grisha, is an indentured servant, forced to do the bidding of her wealthy master, Hoede. The other guards tease Joost for his crush and the fact that he can’t grow a mustache. Joost goes to where Anya should be, but she is missing. He eventually finds her in Hoede’s boathouse, which has been removed from his patrol route, supposedly due to construction that doesn’t seem to be occurring. In the boathouse, Joost sees Hoede, another merchant he doesn’t recognize, and many guards surrounding Anya and a young boy. Hoede and the merchant make Anya perform a series of tests. First, they cut the boy and make her heal him. Then, they give her a drug and have her heal the boy again. Next, they say they are going to cut the boy’s thumb off, but Anya suddenly begins to control everyone in the room with her words. She tells everyone to wait. She picks up the boy and tells Hoede to pick up a knife.  

Chapter 2: Inej 

Kaz, Inej, Jesper, and Big Bolliger are members of the Dregs, one of several criminal gangs in the city of Ketterdam. Kaz, the ruthless young leader, walks with a limp, uses a crow-headed cane, and wears a perpetual scowl. Jesper, a sharpshooter, is excellent with pistols and always itching for adventure. Inej, stealthy and agile, can scale buildings easily and spy on others undetected. She wears her collection of prized knives under her clothing. Big Bolliger is a large brute who provides muscle for the Dregs.  

The Dregs are preparing to meet with a rival gang, the Black Tips. As Inej scales a nearby building to survey the meeting place, she is frustrated that Kaz hasn’t given her more information. Geels, the leader of the Black Tips, wants to wrest control of Fifth Harbor from the Dregs because Kaz has turned it into a lucrative port. Though the rules of street engagement say one must come to these meetings unarmed, Geels pulls a gun on Kaz. Things don’t look good for Kaz, especially when Geels mentions that he has paid off the city guards. But when Geels orders Holst, one of the guards, to shoot Kaz, he shoots Big Bolliger instead, surprising Geels. Inej sneaks up behind the second guard and holds him at knifepoint. Kaz reveals that he’s blackmailing Holst and that he knows that Big Bolliger is double-crossing the Dregs. Kaz also tells Geels that he knows about his girlfriend, and his men have been ordered to burn her alive in her apartment if Kaz is harmed by Geels. Geels relents, and Kaz breaks his wrist with his cane and leaves Big Bolliger to bleed out on the ground. 

Chapter 3: Kaz 

After celebrating the victory against the Black Tips, Kaz is ambushed, beaten, and abducted by someone with a syringe who appears to be able to walk through walls like a ghost. He thinks at first that it is the ghost of his brother Jordie. Kaz wakes up bound in chains in the presence of a  merchant named Van Eck, who says the Merchant Council has a business proposition for him. When Kaz picks the lock on his chains and threatens Van Eck with a letter opener, the ghost appears again out of nowhere and takes Kaz down. Van Eck explains that the ghost is a Grisha named Mikka under the influence of a drug called jurda parem. The drug enhances Mikka’s powers, giving him the ability to walk through walls. Van Eck says that the drug was sent to the Merchant Council by a scientist named Bo Yul-Bayur, a Shu. Bo Yul-Bayur was concerned about his country’s plans for the drug and was seeking asylum from the council. Instead, he was imprisoned by the Fjerdans. Bo Yul-Bayur holds the secret formula for jurda parem, which has only been produced in limited supplies so far. Van Eck says the council is concerned about the ramifications if the formula gets into the wrong hands. The council wants to extract Bo Yul-Bayur from the Ice Court, the Fjerdan fortress where he is held, without causing an international incident. 

According to Van Eck, jurda parem has been tested on three types of Grisha so far. Under the drug’s influence, Etherealaki like Mikka can walk through walls, Healers like Anya can control people’s minds, and Fabrikators, another type of Grisha, can turn objects into gold. Van Eck shows Kaz the officers who were told to “wait” by Anya. They are stuck in a state of suspended animation that Van Eck calls as good as dead. However, Van Eck explains that the drug is highly addictive and quickly ravages the bodies of the Grisha who develop a dependency.  

Sensing that the mission is highly dangerous and that Van Eck is desperate, Kaz demands 30 million kruge, a huge sum, to take the job. Van Eck reluctantly agrees.  


The opening chapters introduce the fragile hierarchy of Ketterdam’s underworld and the use of violence to maintain it. These early chapters paint a picture of Ketterdam as a city run by vice and crime. Kaz has risen to an uneasy control over his gang and the lucrative port of Fifth Harbor. He overhauls the port like a conventional businessman but uses it to steer more gamblers and philanderers into The Crow Club. Kaz’s interaction with Geels illustrates that he maintains power through fear, ruthlessness, and cunning, which allows him to rule over the streets of Ketterdam. This power is fragile, though; because they are outlaws, there's no one to protect the Dregs if one of the rival gangs makes a gambit for control of Fifth Harbor. The city guards charged with enforcing law and order are clearly vulnerable to corruption, as both Kaz and Geels have guards in their pockets. As a result, constant and often excessive violence is the true law of the land. 

Objects take on talismanic roles in the novel, with Inej’s knives, Jesper’s guns, and Kaz’s cane serving as companionable protectors in the characters’ lonely and dangerous lives. The three main characters who are part of the Dregs each have one or more objects that they reach for when they need solace and protection. Inej names and touches her knives as though they are beloved companions. Her relationship with the knives is practical, as the ritual of counting her knives helps her keep track of them, but it also provides comfort when she finds herself in danger. Jesper even kisses his beloved guns when he has to hand them over before the meeting, calling them his babies. Similarly, Kaz’s cane serves as both a weapon and a crutch, literally and figuratively. He uses it to injure Big Bolliger and Geels, but he also feels immense comfort when his cane is returned to him after his abduction by Van Eck. The emotional relationship these young characters have with their weapons illustrates that their lives lack more traditional sources of comfort. They find tenderness in the objects that allow them to protect themselves in a harsh, uncertain world. 

This section begins to explore both the power of the jurda parem and the ravaging effects of addiction on the Grisha. Although the Grisha already possess magical powers, they represent an exploited underclass in Ketterdam. Many Grisha are foreign refugees who agreed to become indentured servants to pay their passage to Ketterdam. Their wealthy owners treat them like slaves, making them use their powers for their own benefit. Jurda parem paradoxically amplifies Grishas’ power and powerlessness. Anya gains the ability to control her master and anyone else in the vicinity. Mikka can transform his body from solid to gas and back again, walking through walls and overpowering anyone he wants. The Fabrikator can turn iron to gold, instantly manufacturing endless wealth. With these heightened powers, the Grisha could easily overpower their masters and free themselves from their indentures if not for the destructive effects of the drug. Because the drug traps them in a cycle of addiction, it renders them even more vulnerable to the whims of their masters. As Van Eck rightly perceives, those who gain control of the supply of jurda parem will wield the real power. The Grisha will become powerful but disposable slaves.