Mare Barrow- main character
Kilorn- Mare's best friend
Gisa (Gee)- Mare's sister
Shade, Bree, and Tramy- Mare's brothers
Cal- the king's son, general over the Silver army located at the castle
Elara- the king's wife/queen
Maven- Elara's son
Lucas- assigned as Mare's guard
Julian- one of Mare's trainers and the former queen's brother
Arven- one of Mare's trainers
Evangeline- Cal's betrothed
We begin the book by learning that there are two different types of people in the world: Reds and Silvers. The Reds are treated as slaves since they do not have the abilities the Silvers have. Silvers all have some sort of superhuman power: there are telkies (use telekinesis), nymphs (control water), strongarms (superhuman strength), swifts (amazingly fast), greenys (can bend nature to their will), etc.
Mare and her family are Reds and live in one of the villages called the Stilts. A few Reds are able to become apprentices for jobs that the Silvers see fit for them. Mare's sister Gisa has been apprenticed as a silk maker for example, and her friend Kilorn is apprenticed as a fisherman. For those who are not suitable to the tasks, they are sent to the war in a process called conscription after they turn 18. It is the Silver's war between each other battling for lands, but very few Silvers fight and instead the Reds are sent to the frontlines to die.
When Kilorn's master (this is what they call the teachers who are training the apprentices for their specific career) dies in an accident, Kilorn informs Mare that he will be sent for conscription, and although she is scheduled to go as well, she feels the need to protect Kilorn.
Mare is a master thief and decides to visit her friend Will who runs the local black market to get him to try to help smuggle Kilorn out of the city and go into hiding. There Will introduces her to Farley, the head of the Scarlet Guard (rebels that are trying to start a war against the Silvers to demand equality), and Farley says she will help smuggle Kilorn in exchange for a huge payment. Mare knows the only way she can come up with that much money at once is to steal from the Silvers and asks for Gisa's help. When Mare can't find an opening to steal, Gisa tries to do it for her but is caught and her hand is crushed, meaning she will not be able to apprentice sewing anymore.
Distraught but refusing to give up, Mare goes to the local tavern to pickpocket people there and is caught by a boy named Cal when she tries to steal from him. He begins talking to her asking her why she's stealing and something about him and the stressful day she has had makes her break down and tell him about everything that's happened. He walks her home and gives her the money he has on him.
The next day a guard knocks on the Barrow's door and says that Mare is to come with them. She is taken to the king's castle and put to work as a servant there. She finds out it was Cal's doing to help her escape conscription when she sees that he is actually the son of the king.
Mare learns an event called Queenstrial is going on, which is the event the Silvers have where the young girls compete with their abilities to earn the right to marry the prince. The queen has a son named Maven (Cal's half brother due to the fact that Cal's mother, the former queen, is dead), so there will actually be two marriages.
Mare is serving at the Queenstrial when she falls off the balcony of the arena where the contestants are showing their skills and lands on the electrical shield which is blocking the Silver's in the stands from the abilities being used below.
Mare expects to die, but instead absorbs the electricity into her body and falls unharmed. The Silver girl currently in the arena (Evangeline, the girl who ends up being pledged to marry Cal) uses her magnetic ability to try to kill Mare but Mare throws her hands up and ends up shooting lightning from her fingertips. She knows she is about to be killed so she runs but is captured.
The Silvers are in a frenzy knowing that a Red has the same powers they do, so in order to mask it, the king tells Mare that she will wed Maven, and her backstory is that she always believed she was Red, having been raised by Reds, but it turns out that she is one of the fallen Silver general's daughters.
His angle is that he thinks she will be able to bridge the gap between the Reds and the Silvers and make speeches to help stop the war the Scarlet Guard has started, by showing that Silvers are kind to Reds, knowing she has been raised as one.
Mare begins training with the other Silvers to control her powers, including Maven and Cal, and ends up growing close to them both. Cal shows her how to sneak out of the castle to see her family one last time since she never got to say goodbye before she was taken. She tells them the whole story and they are understanding, but Kilorn vows to join the Scarlet Guard and stop what Mare is being forced into. Mare learns at this time that Shade has been killed in the war and she joins the Scarlet Guard herself along with Maven, who wants change also.
They help Farley plan an attack on a few of the Silvers who have hands in the war during a ball that is planned. The key targets are killed but a bomb also explodes killing many others. Farley and Kilorn are captured and are tortured to try to get information out of them. Maven and Mare must stand aside and act like they know nothing, but Mare enlists Julian's help since he can control minds and they use this against the guards to help the prisoners escape without anyone being the wiser.
Before Julian runs, knowing Elara will find out he helped due to the abilities used, he tells Mare that she is neither Red nor Silver but stronger than both, and he has been researching her DNA and came up with many others just like her, Shade having been one of them. Mare realizes this is why he had been killed in the war.
Before Mare will help them escape she asks Farley about the bomb as it was only supposed to be a few targets, and after Farley swears she doesn't know about any bomb, Mare finds out it wasn't a bomb at all but a gas leak that ignited while Cal was using his fire powers to try to capture the prisoners.
After the Scarlet Guard attack which now has the Silvers on edge, Farley manages to meet back up with Mare and Maven and they take the Undertrain (which I picture as a subway) to the irradiated part of the country. It turns out it isn't plagued by radiation at all and this is where the Scarlet Guard along with any Reds seeking refuge have built a city. They have tech that makes the place still seem like it has radiation to the Silver's radiation detection machines.
At their meeting with Farley, Mare gives her the names Julian had written down and tells her they could build an army that could win the war, but Farley says they do not have enough time for that, since the Silver's are retaliating harshly after the attack by imposing curfews, killing any Reds who step out of line at all, and offering freedom from conscription for information leading to the arrest of the Scarlet Guard. She says there are a lot of Reds who will help, but even more who would turn them in to save their sons and daughters from conscription.
Maven says that they could hit the Silver's at their heart by sneaking into the castle and forcing the king to surrender, since he is the heart of the war anyways. If he falls, the war ends. Farley and Mare state that there's no way they would get past all the guards, but Maven knows Cal is in love with Mare (as he is also), and says that if it were between Cal's crown or saving Mare (knowing that if the plan fails she'll be seen as a rebel and be executed), Cal would always choose Mare and convince his army to step away and not attack the Guard.
They all sneak up through the tunnels under the city and blow up the bridge leading to the castle. When the Silver guards run in, Cal included, Mare tells him that he should choose to make a new world, a better world, and choose her.
She is acting like she loves him, and although a part of her despises him for the way he believes the war needs to continue in order to avoid the fall of both races (and he's sure the Silvers are in the right), there is a part that also remembers how kind he's been to her and the way he's shown her he loves her, and she realizes her words are not totally false.
The plan goes awry when he does not listen to her though and instead puts two and two together, realizing she is with the Guard and is partly responsible for all the deaths at the ball and the other attacks on the Silvers.
Maven, the Guard, and Mare run to escape but are captured and taken before the king. Elara wants to save her son, so she uses her mind control powers to disable the king and Cal. Mare has hope that they will be saved even though Elara has always treated her like trash.
Elara forces Cal to kill the king, his father, as Mare and Maven watch. When Mare looks over at Maven, she sees that he is smiling and realizes this was his and his mother's plan the whole time and he has used her and the Guard from the beginning. Now he will be king since Cal will be seen as a king killer and executed, and Elara will still serve by his side, while Cal and Mare will be executed for treason. We learn that Maven made Julian has already been killed since they knew too much.
The arena for Silvers who have commited treason is called the Circle of Bones, and Maven tells Cal and Mare this is where they will meet their end.
When they arrive, Lucas is there and is executed in front of them before they are sent into the arena to fight barehanded against some of the best recruits with Arven watching. He is their former battle trainer who apparently is in cahoots with Elara. He can diminish recruits abilities and he does this to Mare so that she can't use her electricity against the foes, including Evangeline with her magnetic abilities and her brother Ptolemus. They evade the warriors as long as they can, with Cal telling Mare to stay behind him and he'll try to protect her.
Mare tricks one of the fighters into throwing a spear at her while she's in front of Arven and she steps out of the way at the last second, causing Arven to be killed by the spear. Her abilities return and she begins fighting with Cal. In the meantime, Maven has had the arena spectators evacuated "for their safety", but really because he is still trying to cover up the fact that Mare is Red but has abilities.
After defeating all the warriors (Evangeline ran when she saw they were losing), Maven sends in the guards to kill them, but a storm has been brewing and Mare uses her ability to control the lightning and destroy the arena to try to buy them time to escape. Maven tells the guards to shoot them and Mare knows it's over, but when she hears gunfire she realizes it's coming from the chasm in the arena that held the water for the nymph warrior to fight them with and she sees the guards fall. Hands grab her and Cal and pull them into the chasm and the water below.
Mare wakes on an Undertrain headed for the Scarlet Guard's city to find that Shade is alive and on the train with them. He reveals that he has a teleportation ability and that's why the Silvers have not been able to kill him even though they've tried. He tells her that their parents and brothers are waiting for them at the Scarlet Guard city. Cal is tied up and although Mare tries to convince Farley to let him go, stating that he saved her life in the Circle of Bones, Farley says she won't ever trust another Silver. Mare and Cal exchange looks and Mare realizes that although he could burn the chains on his wrists at any time and escape he chooses not to, and Mare knows it's because they BOTH have unfinished business with Maven and want to find the others like Mare to take him down.
End of book 1