‘If you wish to know what someone is made of, you must squeeze them until it shows.’
In the Convent of Sweet Mercy, Abbess Glass and her sisters apply pressure to the girls placed in their care. They find out what their novices are made of and train each according to their nature.
The world beyond the convent is wider, but not by so very much. Their planet, Abeth, circles a red and dying star. Its original inhabitants left millennia ago when the ice began to cover the globe. The people who replaced them are now hemmed within a clear corridor, never more than fifty miles wide, between the northern ice cliffs and the southern.
Humanity’s ancestors left them a gift: an artificial moon that focuses the sun’s light and every night battles the advance of the ice. But that war is being lost. The many nations of the Corridor are being squeezed. Each year sees more people and less land. And those people are showing what they’re made of. That nations will go to war under such circumstances is inevitable; the pressure is not just upon empires but on each institution and each person within those institutions.
In such a harsh world, children are often sold by families that cannot feed them. The more discerning purchasers look for signs of the old bloods, four tribes that beached their ships on Abeth. When their blood shows true it brings rare talents. Such children can grow impossibly huge or fast, or find strange magics at their fingertips. Such children are valuable. Nona Grey is purchased for just these reasons from a mother eager to sell.
As Nona grows she finds conflict on every side and at every level. She learns that the dangers she is being trained to confront are already at her doorstep. But Nona was born for war, she understands it. What truly puzzles her are people, and as she tries to unlock that puzzle, while being trained in the faith of the Ancestor, she discovers that no bond is more holy to her than that of friendship.
Nona is a strange child and cautious of naming anyone her friend, for once that word is spoken caution ends and there is no limit to what she might do to save someone precious to her.
Where Nona looks on humanity and sees confusion, Abbess Glass sees through to the heart of each person with rare clarity. The abbess is neither young nor deadly, she wields no magics, and yet when it comes to the long game she has yet to meet her equal. She has seen something in Nona Grey, seen her part in what must come, and staked her faith upon it. In time Nona will come to respect the abbess, to understand quite how ruthless she can be and quite how far she too will go to achieve her aims. In time she may even come to fear her.
In a convent where extraordinary children are trained in the darkest and most bloody arts, Nona and her friends struggle to survive, to learn and to stay true to themselves.