Emma is born in Northendell, in the frigid Pewter Mountains, to Dak, a scholar of Zo history, and Ilsa, a singer, dancer and musician. At the behest of his wife, Dak gives up his pursuit of immortality, breaking ties with his old friend and partner, Mathias. When King Frizzbeard's men-at-arms learn of Dak's golem creation, their home is ransacked. Knowing the punishment for dabbling in the forbidden arts, Dak and Ilsa choose immolation to capture, trusting in their golem protector, Grimosse, to steal their infant daughter away into the night, to the safety of their only friend. Mathias receives the child with reluctance. During the early years, he takes academic interest in her, teaching Emma to read and giving her books, but as she ages and begins to question him, he decides it is in his and her best interest to keep distant. She is told nothing of her true parents. Before the age of nine, Mathias keeps her prisoner in her own home, a tower once used for defensive purposes, from when the city limits ended at her doorstep. When Emma is at last given freedom to explore the labyrinthine avenues of her city, she is treated cruelly by the other children, who find her socially awkward. She is later imprisoned in her bedroom for a year as punishment for perusing Mathias' study. In the decade that follows, Emma finds solace in hidden and forgotten places, befriending ravens, with whom she imaginatively converses. Black birds are a bad omen in Northendell, however, so when a neighbor miscarries, the strange girl who talks to ravens is implicated for witchcraft. Emma is brought before the king and sentenced to death by exile, since, it is believed, no one can survive the extreme cold beyond the city walls. But a sympathetic soldier, Duncan, speaking on her behalf, lessens her sentence to slavery. On the way to the southern kingdoms, where she is to be sold, Emma's prison cart is overturned and her captors are brutally killed. But her saviors are just as frightening, and far stranger than anything Emma can imagine: wild humans, a man and a woman, with blood soaked limbs and not a stitch of clothing. If Emma hopes to survive, if she hopes to ever discover the secret of her stepfather's study, she will need to follow them, but what faith can she put in such savage naked creatures? And yet, there is something strangely familiar, and comforting, about their third companion---strange because he isn't even human, but a patchwork life form, a thing of dead flesh given life, a golem called Grimosse.