Henghis Hapthorn is the foremost penetrator of mysteries and uncoverer of secrets in a decadent, far-future Old Earth, one age before Jack Vance's Dying Earth. A superb rationalist, he has long disdained the notion that the universe has an alternative organizing principle: magic. But now a new age is dawning, overturning the very foundations of Hapthorn's existence, and he must struggle to survive in a world where all the rules are changing.
Hapthorn decides to leave Old Earth, seeking to solve the mystery of Hespira, an ungainly off-world woman who has lost her memory. The investigation takes him down The Spray to the rank-obsessed world of Ikkibal and the rustic Shannery, where he unravels Hespira's role in a deadly feud between aristocrats. But behind the scenes an unseen antagonist is plotting the discriminator's destruction.