Rycroft "Philo" Philostrate investigates "Unseelie Jack", a mysterious assailant with a grudge against the fae. Vignette Stonemoss barely escapes Tirnanoc with her life and arrives in The Burgue looking for a fresh start. Imogen Spurnrose meets her new neighbor. In Parliament, the fight over the critch heats up.
For ages, the homeland of the fae was a place of myth and legend. Until the many empires of man arrived and warred to gain control of its riches. Seven years ago, the great war ended when The Republic of The Burgue withdrew... Abandoning the fae to the iron fist of their rivals, The Pact. Now the Fae’s homeland is the hell from which they fear to escape.
A large group of fae rush through the Pact occupied woods of Anoun, though many are shot down as the Pact are on their tails with Marroks at their command. The group of Fae are lead by Vignette Stonemoss, the last of the sparrowhawks. many lie dead in the woods, Vignette alone makes it off the coast and fly to a nearby ship for passage. Initially reluctant, the Captain allows Vignette to board, but he places her in the hold.
That night, Vignette sits in the hold with the other fae refugees. Ryma thanks Vignette for arranging passage for them even though it meant paying for passing or working as an indentured servant in the Burgue. In her hand, Vignette holds a photo of Rycroft Philostrate. A Burguish soldier she was involved with during the war. However, he died in the last Pact advance, at least that what she was lead to believe. The ship starts to flood and water comes rushing into the hold, drowning all those inside.
Inspector Rycroft Philostrate arrives on train in the Burgue. He walks Carnival Row, passing by its many residents, humans, faeries, fauns, centaurs and those alike. He confronts two constables who are antagonizing an innocent faun named Callie.
Philo is working a case on the Row. A string of attacks on Critch. They’ve named him Unseelie Jack. His latest victim is a woman named Magrite. She’s from Anoun. Philo spent some time in the Tinanese highlands during the war. He was stationed in a mimasery. One of the most beautiful places he’d ever seen, with some of the bravest people he’d ever known. Unseelie Jack is hunting fae folk. Once every three weeks. It had been three weeks since Magrite was attacked, meaning he is due for another. She heard him before she saw him. He called her a Pix whore. He could smell the darkness on her, he claimed. He didn't have any hair, save for muttonchops. He also had a snake tattoo on his forearm. Lastly, he wore a uniform, however, Magrite couldn’t identify it.
While playing near the lighthouse, two human children and their puck nanny discover a shipwreck just below. Dozens of fae lie dead in the water. Vignette is amongst them, though she’s alive.
The Republic of the Burgue assemble at Balefire Hall to discuss the influx of Critch. Ritter Longerbane sees them as an infestation, accusing them of changing the fabric of his society. They bring vices, wantonness, the scourge of lixer addiction, the worship of strange gods. Chancellor Absalom Breakspear reminds him that the reason the fae folk were forced to flee their lands in the first place was because the party lead by Longerbane, the Hardtackers, decided to let Tirnanoc fall into the hands of the Pact. Breakspear believes it was a war they could’ve won. Longerbane proceeds to accuse the fae of stealing good jobs from the Burguish men. He then accuses Chancellor Breakspeare of consorting with Pix harlots.
Afterward, Absalom returns home with his wife Piety. As their son Jonah returns home from a late night out, Piety decides to confront him as she believes that he was on Carnival Row. She worries that he’ll do something to ruin the Breakspear name.
Tourmaline asks Philo if he’s captured Unseelie Jack yet, but he hasn’t because the victims haven’t been forthcoming as they don’t trust the police. Tourmaline tells Philo that it’s getting tense on the Row. A racist with a hammer is attacking fae folk and law enforcement, for the most part don’t seem to care.
Vignette is the sole survivor. She was rescued off the shore and taken to the precinct, where she is questioned by Sergeant Dombey and Constable Cuppins. She boarded the Deliverance near Anoun. Off the coast. She doesn’t know who she is contracted to, but she knows it was two years’ work for the passage.
Brother and sister duo Ezra and Imogen Spurnrose discuss their new neighbor, who had just purchased the finest house in the Crossing. They then receive an unexpected visits from Constable Cuppins, who informs Ezra that his sailing ship the Deliverance crashed near the shore.
Ezra is taken down to the precinct, where he admits to having tied up a considerable amount of his family’s fortune in this enterprise. He was approached to fund the purchase and refurbishment of the Deliverance as a passenger vessel in return for a share of the profits earned in bringing over fae folks. As for Vignette, she is indentured to Ezra for the price of passage. 50 guilders. It is up to Ezra to either sell that contract to someone else or keep her as a domestic.
Ezra decides to keep Vignette and brings her home as a lady’s maid. Imogen is thrilled at the news of gaining a new servant, which she’d not had since her father’s passing. Afissa, the Spurnrose’s housekeeping faun, offers to clean Vignette up and get her into uniform.
Imogen informs Vignette that she’ll have Swansday off and that she’s to use that time to attend to any personal matters. Imogen need not worry as Vignette has no kin to speak of as they’re all dead. Imogen offers her condolences. She doesn’t agree with the Burgue abandoning Tirnanoc to the ravages of the Pact. She sees her taking Vignette in as a good deed. She attempts to touch Vignette’s braid, but Vignette pleads with her not to. While she doesn’t have much, her braids tell who she is. It reminds her of someone she lost.
Philo attends a rally of disgruntled Burguish men who feel as if their streets are being over taken by fae folk. Sergeant Dombey is in attendance, and he fits the description of shaved man with a uniform and muttonchops. Dombey denies having anything to do with the attacks, however, he also has no interest in stopping them. Philo asks that Dombey pull up his sleeve to possibly reveal a snake tattoo, but he refuses and assures Philo that like him, he too took an oath to serve and protect. Philo doesn’t buy it. He cares for the fae folk because he fought with them during the war, and they put their lives on the line same as he did, and he doesn’t like how the city has chosen to repay them. Philo punches Dombey and knocks him to the ground after he starts insulting faeries.
Philo returns home to the Rooms to Let, where he appears to be in a romance with the landlord Portia Fyfe. After dinner, they have sex in his bedroom. Afterward, Portia inquires about the scars on Philo’s back, but he’s hesitant to say much. He claims it’s a battle scar. Portia’s husband also fought in the war, though he did not return. However, it’s been more than 7 years and she has since moved on. Still, Philo doesn’t budge and doesn’t offer her much, even as she begs to be told a story.
The following morning, Afissa laces up Vignette’s corset, strapping down her wings to keep her from flying away. While Vignette can go where she’d like on her own time, Afissa reminds her that she’s always representing the Spurnrose house. To that end, Vignette asks for directions to the Tetterby Hotel. A friend of hers had come to the Burgue a while ago and Vignette heard she might be staying there. However, according to Afissa, it’s a house of ill repute on Carnival Row. A whore house. From now on, she intends to keep an eye on Vignette as the Spurnroses have taken good care of her and doesn’t want that to come to an end.
While Vignette cleans the bathroom, she notices Imogen’s perfume on the counter and pours it down the drain. Not long after, Imogen sends her on an errand. To go to the Row and have her perfume refilled. It’s Tamphus Oil. Along with Calder root and many other ingredients. A drop behind each ear and men take notice to what they otherwise overlook. Imogen worries, as she’s about to turn 23 with few prospects for marriage. She wants to use it to gain the attention of the new neighbor.
Rather than doing as told, Vignette heads down to the Tetterby Hotel, where she finds her friend Tourmaline standing on the balcony. Tourmaline is not proud of her job as a prostitute, but she looks to Vignette sparrowhawking as something to be celebrated. Those who she provided passage for may be in indentured servitude, but at least they’re free of the Pact. Vignette never intended to leave Tirnanoc, but after hearing a group of girls and women were looking for passage, she had no choice but to help. However, there were so many soldiers there that she’d never make it back, so she was forced to leave on the ship. Tourmaline notices Vignette’s widow’s braid, realizing that Vignette is under the impression that Philo is dead, when in actuality, he’s alive.
Philo shares with Magistrate Flute his suspicion of Sergeant Dombey. He suspects that he may be Unseelie Jack, though he can’t prove it beyond the description given by the latest victim. Flute doesn’t seem too concerned. Philo wants to put a man on Dombey, but Magistrate Flute refuses to do so. Instead, he sends Philo home for the day.
Through talking to Constable Cuppins and Berwick, and learning that Basilisk was in port every three weeks, Philo realizes that Unseelie Jack is a sailor.
Vignette is distraught to learn that Philo is alive. Tourmaline tries to convince her to move on, but Vignette wants Philo to answer for what he’s done.
Imogen and Ezra watch as their new neighbor arrives in a carriage. They greet him at his home, having come to extend their hospitality. Much to their surprise, their new neighbor, Agreus Astrayon, is a faun.
Tourmaline and Fleury discuss if it was the right decision to tell Vignette that Philo is alive. They’re concerned that she might do something. Jonah Breakspear then arrives down below for the second time that week. Madame Moira welcomes him and Tourmaline takes him upstairs, where they have sex. Jonah awakens in the late hours of the night and is attacked and kidnapped.
Philo and Berwick reconvene at a saloon the sailors frequent to hopefully find Unseelie Jack. All the victims were struck on the right side of the head, meaning their attacker is left handed. They’re also looking for a snake tattoo. Philo spots who he believes to be his guy. He approaches the sailor and rolls up his sleeve to find the snake tattoo on his forearm. Jack hits Philo with a glass bottle and escapes the bar. This leads to a chase. Philo follows him out, scales a scaffolding and chases him across multiple rooftops. Philo eventually corners Jack, who has nowhere else to run. Jack explains that he had to stop them. They come from a dark place. He claims that they brought something with them that’ll bring the end of humans. He saw it with his own eyes. A beast like nothing else. He then walks backwards off the edge of the building, plummeting to the ground below.
Vignette brushes Imogen’s hair as she expresses her disbelief in the fact that a puck moved into the finest house on Finistere Crossing.
Vignette leaves Imogen and grabs a knife on her way to her room. She removes her corset, gets dressed, cuts off her widow’s braid, and takes flight in search of Philo.
Philo returns home to find Portia in bed. She notices his cuts and bruises, but he refuses to get it looked at. No doctors, he exclaims. Portia offers to lend an ear as she wants to hear his troublesome day, but he’s reluctant. Portia takes this to mean that he sees her nothing more as a fling and leaves.
Vignette tracks down Philo. She sneaks into his room, jumps on top of him, and holds a knife to his throat. Mima Roosan came to her with blood on her hands, claiming that Philo died in her arms. Philo reveals that he told Roosan to lie on his behalf, however, he never meant to hurt her. Vignette waited for him, but he left her in the ashes of her homeland with nothing but grief for seven years. She presses the blade closer to Philo’s neck, but ultimately decides to spare his life.
Aisling takes a stroll along the riverside, where she finds a flute that she briefly plays. She also finds the photo of Philo, left behind by Vignette. Unbeknownst to Aisling, a grotesque creature waits in the darkened tunnels. She can hear its monstrous footsteps approaching. She attempts to fly away, but it grabs her and drags her inside the tunnel.