Fletcher is an orphan who was abandoned as a baby just outside the town of Pelt. He was found and raised by Berdon, the local blacksmith. Fletcher is now a 15-year-old and works as Berdon’s apprentice.
On trading day, an old soldier named Rotherham comes to town with many stories and relics of Hominum’s long and bloody war with the orcs in the south and the ongoing tension at the northern border with the elves. One of the most fascinating artifacts Rotherham has for sale is a summoner’s handbook. He found the book on the body of dead summoner after a battle with orcs.
Fletcher is very interested in the handbook, but Fletcher’s nemesis, Didric, the son of a wealthy moneylender, bullies Rotherham and demands he sell the book for less than it’s worth. Rotherham doesn’t agree, but Didric insists that he will return for the book.
Rotherham befriends Fletcher, and later, they go out for drinks at the local tavern. Didric and another boy, Jakov, go to the tavern and pick a fight with Fletcher and Rotherham. Didrick and Jokov lose. Rotherham quickly leaves town and gives the handbook to Fletcher as a gift.
The next night, Fletcher goes to the graveyard for privacy and speaks the words from the handbook, not believing anything will happen. Only those of noble birth, and a small number of commoners, have the ability to summon demons: animals from another dimension with special abilities, who bond with their summoner and fight alongside them. To Fletcher’s shock, a small, wine colored demon, with the ability to breath fire and about the size of a ferret, appears.
The summoning weakens Fletcher, but he soon hears other people in the graveyard. The demon, which Fletcher later names Ignatius, wraps himself around Fletcher’s neck like a scarf, and they hide. Didric, who wants revenge after being embarrassed in the tavern, and two of his friends have followed Fletcher to the graveyard and are searching for him.
The three confront Fletcher with the intent to kill him. When they attack, Fletcher tries to fight them off but can’t. When Ignatius senses Fletcher’s panic, he breathes fire into Didric’s face. Fletcher runs home and tells Berdon what happened. Berdon packs food, money and weapons for Fletcher, and Fletcher must flee the town.
Fletcher hides in the woods and evades hunting parties searching for him. Ignatius keeps Fletcher warm by wrapping himself around the boy’s neck. The two form a close bond.
Fletcher eventually makes his way to Hominum’s capital, Corcillum, where Vocans Academy is located. Robbers attack Fletcher, but Arcturus, a battlemage in Hominum’s military and an instructor at Vocans, saves him. Arcturus sees Ignatius and decides to be Fletcher’s sponsor at Vocans, where summoners train to be battlemages.
At the academy, Fletcher meets other first year students, some who want to be friends and others who are determined to be enemies. The two students from noble families who treat commoners most poorly are Tarquin Forsyth and his sister Isadora Forsyth. Fletcher befriends Sylva, an aristocratic elven girl, and Othello, a dwarven summoner.
Both Sylva and Othello are the first of their race to attend Vocans, and other students shun them. Humans and elves are on the brink of war, and Sylva, a chieftain’s daughter, is a diplomat at Vocans. Her enrollment was a first step toward peace.
When they get a break from classes, Fletcher and Othello go into town. The local police harass them. Hominum society treats dwarves as lesser people, and police officers often harass male dwarfs when they see them in the street. After getting away from the police, Fletcher visits Othello’s home and meets his family, including Othello’s angry and rebellious identical twin brother, Atilla.
On the way back to school, Fletcher and Othello see an angry mob holding Sylva, getting ready to beat her to death. Sylva went into town with Tarquin and Isadora, who Sylva thought were her friends. The siblings abandoned her when angry locals approached them. They didn’t use their demons to defend her. Later, Sylva learns that the siblings, at the direction of their father, Lord Forsyth, planned her capture. Lord Forsyth wants to incite a war with the elves for his own financial gain. Fletcher and Othello use their demons to rescue Sylva, and the three students form a stronger friendship before returning to Vocans.
Arcturus meets with Fletcher and explains the rules the school must follow to recruit summoners to Vocans. Years ago, a nobleman, Lord Faversham, fathered several illegitimate children with mistresses and prostitutes. Many of the babies were left in orphanages. Arcturus was one of those children.
When Lady Faversham bore Lord Faversham a son, the boy was sent to Vocans when he came of age. On his way there, Arcturus, who was poor and starving, robbed him of his scroll and inadvertently summoned a demon that immediately bonded with Arcturus. When Lady Faversham found out about Arcturus’ parentage, her husband’s many infidelities and his illegitimate children, she petitioned the king to no longer allow recruitment from the orphanages, to avoid their family any further embarrassment.
Arcturus knows Fletcher is an orphan and believes him to be his brother and the illegitimate son of Lord Faversham. Fletcher is upset to find out who his father may be and the reason his mother may have so callously abandoned him naked in the snow when he was a newborn.
When a teacher is badly injured during a demonstration, another instructor, Rook, takes her place. After learning that Fletcher is an orphan, Rook accuses Arcturus of continuing the search for more orphan summoners. Rook develops a deep hatred of Fletcher and starts a rumor that Fletcher is claiming to be Lord Faversham’s son, which earns Fletcher the hatred of the Faversham family as well.
Rook shows great favor to the students of aristocratic blood and disdain toward commoners, dwarves and elves. He tests the students to see how powerful they are and then declares that only nobles will be allowed to catch new demons, giving those students a distinct advantage in an end-of-the-year tournament.
One night, Fletcher and Sylva see Othello sneaking out of school, and they follow him into the forest where they find a group of dwarves meeting in a cave to discuss launching a rebellion against the king. At first, Fletcher thinks Othello is a part of the rebellion. But Othello speaks out against such a plan, much to the disgust of his brother, Atilla. Fletcher also sees men in the forest and knows that the dwarves are about to be ambushed.
Lord Forsyth learned of the meeting and set a trap for the dwarves. If the dwarves are found in a group discussing rebellion, they will all be put to death. Fletcher warns the dwarves, and they escape, but Fletcher and Atilla are pursued and almost caught. Atilla is badly hurt and would have died without Fletcher’s help. Atilla grudgingly admits that not all humans are bad.
Since the school announced that students will compete in a tournament at the end of their first year instead of their second, as is customary, Fletcher and the other commoners must work very hard at skills the nobles have already perfected. Success in the tournament means better military commissions after graduation, and the winner gets a seat on the king’s council: a position with far reaching political and military influence.
Rook plans the tournament in a way that gives the nobles the advantage. Despite Rook’s scheming, Fletcher fights diligently and uses creativity and intelligence to get to the final round. Othello and Sylva perform very well too, winning their tournaments until close to the final round. Eventually, Fletcher and Tarquin are the last two contestants, and Fletcher wins the tournament.
Afterward, Fletcher, Othello and Sylva are badly injured but are still jubilant at their achievement. Before they get a chance to receive their commissions, Rook arrives with the police to arrest Fletcher. Out of hatred and spite, Rook has been investigating Fletcher and found out where he was from. Rook arrests Fletcher for the attempted murder of Didric and takes Fletcher back to Pelt.