Long ago when the Alchemist walked openly in the land of Sempera, he found a way to extract time from people’s blood and turn it into iron. Days, months and years could be drained from the poor and minted into coins that the wealthy used to increase their lives. Some believe the Alchemist still lives, hiding from the wrath of the Sorceress, whose heart he stole.
Jules and her father live in poverty since the day they were run off from Everless, the estate of one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in Sempera, the Gerlings. Papa had been their blacksmith and Jules a favored playmate of Liam and Roan Gerling. But when Liam tried to push his younger brother into the forge, Jules was blamed.
Papa has kept Jules hidden for 10 years. However, as they fall deeper in debt, Jules defies her father and returns to Everless to work as a servant. The Gerlings are hiring many people to help in the celebration of Roan’s wedding to Ina Gold, the adopted daughter of the Queen. Although Jules tries to stay out of Liam’s way, she constantly hopes she will see Roan. She has never forgotten her childhood friend or let go of the feelings she had for him.
Papa sneaks into Everless and hides in a root cellar so he can warn Jules to stay away from the Queen, as the Queen will know her. Although he is very sick, Papa will only leave when Jules promises she will return home the next day. She pays another servant to escort her father out of the estate before the Queen arrives that night.
The following morning, Jules is told her father has died. The servant lost him when he went to find a horse and cart. When he found her papa again, he was barely alive, and his hands were dyed purple. Another servant theorizes that he died trying to retrieve something from the Gerling vault. It is coated with mava, a dye from a fruit that helps the guards track down anyone who has entered the vault illegally. Anyone who steps inside must also pay with time, and her papa had very little of to spare.
Jules is given the afternoon off to return to her village and retrieve her father’s belongings from the collector. He informs her that she does not inherit anything because there is no record of Jules being his daughter. Papa left her a letter and a bag of blood irons. In the letter, Papa admits that he is not her biological father, but that he loves her just as much as if she were his own. He begs her to stay away from Everless and the Queen, claiming that Jules is in danger near them. Confused and angry, Jules ignores his final pleas and returns to the Gerlings, determined to get close to the Queen and discover what her father was trying to hide.
Jules spies on Liam and follows him through the halls to the vault. He questions her and seems to recognize her. As she flees back to the servants’ quarters, she runs into Roan. They share a flirtatious moment, and Roan finally recognizes her. She tells him of her desire to serve the Queen but that she worries because none have passed the test the Queen gives for the position. Roan insists it is only a formality, and he will help her met the Queen.
Caro, the Queen’s handmaiden, escorts Jules up to Ina’s rooms the following day. Caro is overtly friendly and sympathetic. Jules helps Ina pick out her wedding dress. Caro then brings them into the Queen’s room where Jules is given the loyalty test. When the Queen throws a dagger toward Ina, Jules instinctively steps in to protect her new friend. Caro grabs the dagger from the air before Jules is struck. She has passed the test.
The following day, Ina asks Jules to accompany her on a secret journey to an orphanage. Although grateful to the Queen, Ina desperately wants to know where she originally came from. The girls learn nothing at the orphanage about Ina’s parents, but Jules is intrigued to learn that there were tremors in time the year she and Ina were born. One town, Briarsmore, actually froze for 12 hours. The Queen ordered the town abandoned, as it remained 12 hours behind the rest of Sempera.
Caro arranges for her, Jules and Ina to visit another town in disguise so that Ina may have a night of frivolity before her wedding. They indulge in strong alcohol, and Jules finds she needs some air to clear her head. She stops in a teahouse and sees Liam in the backroom, doing research away from Everless spies.
Under the influence of alcohol, Jules reminds him that she knows he pushed Roan into the forge. He seems sincere when he says she remembers wrong and warns her to be careful of the Queen. He offers to escort her home for her safety, but when he leaves to pay his bill, Jules steals his notebook. She is shocked to see his notebook contains many of the stories she told as a child about a fox and a snake that were friends.
Jules meets back with Ina and Caro, and they take her to a Hedge Witch to have their past memories brought to light. Jules has a strange vision about the Sorceress and the Alchemist.
Back in Everless, the Queen is furious at their secret adventure. She insists Ina and Roan make a special sacrifice to the statue of the Sorceress the following day. Caro promises to help Jules break into the Gerling vault as atonement for getting her into trouble.
In the morning, Jules attends a special meeting in which the captain of the guard declares Caro will be punished for trying to enter the vault. She will have 40 years of life drawn from her blood. As Jules knows it could kill her new friend, she finds a time lender to drain her own blood so she can give her time to Caro. The time lender is confused when he cannot determine how much time Jules has left. It appears that she has lived for many years.
He takes 10 years from her and Jules finds Caro so she can give it to her. When Caro drinks the melted coins, she begins to choke. As Jules struggles to help her, time stops in the room. Jules frees the object stuck in Caro’s throat, only to find it is the blood-irons she gave her. The metal creeps down her arm to the cut the time lender made and is reabsorbed into Jules’s body.
As she cares for Caro, she realizes her friend’s hand has not been cut so she could not have had her time drained. Nor are her palms purple from the vault’s stain, so she could not have entered it. The stories of Fox and Snake come to her memory, and Jules knows she must try to remember her past.
Inside the Gerling vault, Jules finds the book her father had been trying to retrieve for her. It holds stories of the Fox and Snake as well as drawings she did as a child. They trigger a memory of her fleeing to Briarsmore. Jules stops time again to escape the guards and then steals a horse to ride to the fated town.
One woman remains in Briarsmore. She tells Jules of a baby born with a stone in her mouth and how the child’s uncle, a blacksmith, took her away so the Queen would not find her. The Queen, however, took the child’s twin sister. Jules realizes that Ina is her sister and that the Queen must be the Sorceress. Jules knows now that she must leave Everless, but she returns long enough to retrieve her belongings. Unfortunately, Liam has her arrested before she can escape.
Liam brings her to a port town. He tells her to live in disguise among its thousands of inhabitants. As to the past, he says he watched her turn back time and save Roan from the accident at the forge, but her father would never trust that he would not tell others she could control time. Liam spent the next decade studying stories about the Alchemist and Sorceress. He believes the Alchemist did take the Sorceress’ heart, but was prepared to give her 12 stones infused with life.
Fearing a trick, the Sorceress made him eat the stones. Now she searches for the Alchemist who uses the stones to reincarnate himself when he dies. Liam tells Jules that she is the Alchemist. Although Liam wants her to hide, Jules returns again to Everless so she can warn Ina that the Queen is the Sorceress.
Instead, Jules learns that Caro is the Sorceress. Caro kills the Queen and Roan in an effort to break Jules’ heart so she can steal back her own heart and her power. The Sorceress’ heart remains trapped inside Jules. Caro blames the murders on Jules, and she is thrown into the dungeon.
Liam helps her to escape and gives her the book from the vault that contains her memories. Jules vows to return when she has regained her power and memory so she can free Sempera from Caro’s rule.