Sadima lives in a world where magic has been banned, leaving poor villagers prey to fakes and charlatans. A "magician" stole her family's few valuables and left Sadima's mother to die on the day Sadima was born. But vestiges of magic are hidden in old rhymes and hearth tales and in people like Sadima, who conceals her silent communication with animals for fear of rejection and ridicule. When rumors of her gift reach Somiss, a young nobleman obsessed with restoring magic, he sends Franklin, his lifelong servant, to find her. Sadima's joy at sharing her secret becomes love for the man she shares it with. But Franklin's irrevocable bond to the brilliant and dangerous Somiss traps her, too, and she faces a heartbreaking decision.
Centuries later magic has been restored, but it is available only to the wealthy and is strictly controlled by wizards within a sequestered academy of magic. Hahp, the expendable second son of a rich merchant, is forced into the academy and finds himself paired with Gerrard, a peasant boy inexplicably admitted with nine sons of privilege and wealth. Only one of the ten students will graduate — and the first academic requirement is survival.
- Abusive Parent: Hahp's father, and, to a lesser extent, Sadima's father, too.
- Boarding School of Horrors: The magic academy is one of those.
- Country Mouse: Sadima, when she comes to the big city.
- Court Mage: Becomes common after Somiss monopolizes magic for the wealthy and powerful.
- Death by Childbirth: Sadima's mother.
- Ethnic Magician: Prior to Somiss' efforts, a gipsy-like ethnic minority holds most of the magical knowledge. Somiss' gets this knowledge because Franklin was kind to one of them.
- The Empath: Sadima, with animals.
- Wizarding School: The magic academy is a male-only variant.
- Wizards Live Longer: The result of a magic spell Sadima finds for Somiss.