In 2681, Ranulf is the Supreme Pontiff of the Empire of Rome. Based in Alexandria, Ranulf is a curious ruler despite the regimented society in which he lives. Privately educated, he has always possessed an inquisitive mind: “What is the law and who decides?” he wants to ask his tutor at a young age, though he resists the urge. Ranulf grows suspicious of the powerful bureaucrats known as the Librarians, a group whose “precepts and principles” he has long been forced to study. What might these Librarians—who do not leave the Library yet claim a great understanding of the world around them—be trying to hide? The Chief Librarian thinks a Pontiff should just be a figurehead. It is soon clear, however, that a man like Ranulf disagrees.Ranulf stands on a balcony of the tower he has built to be a symbol of independence remembering moments of his life. He recalls the airplane ride that brought him and his mother to Alexandria; his years as the Heir being tutored to learn how to think and to memorize the catechism he was going to have to recite when he became Pontiff; unsupervised visits out of the Library Complex to the city; the death of his mother; his first friends provided by his tutors; his sudden rise to become Pontiff at an early age; his surprising choices of two consorts; and his introduction to the Secret History stored in the Library.Being naturally curious, Ranulf always searches for answers about why the Secret History is kept secret, why only men can be Librarians, and why the principles and precepts are what they are. As a result, he ends up incurring the enmity of the Head Librarian who, Ranulf discovers, engineered the death of his predecessor and possibly his mother. The Head Librarian dies unexpectedly as a result of Ranulf’s actions and his replacement turns out to be even more venomous. Meanwhile, Ranulf is trying to shake up the bureaucracy with innovations such as the New Tower and promoting the men who had been his friends as a teenager. The new Head Librarian counters by spreading rumors of outside efforts to destabilize the Empire and paying outside groups to feign an invasion.Information Ranulf receives from Immortals—beings who have “always been there, waiting to be summoned”—leads his quest for knowledge in unexpected directions. He seeks help from the ambassador of the state that provides the Heir after his Heir is assassinated and he escapes assassination himself. He goes against tradition and fathers a new Heir, a daughter, with a woman sent from his mother’s homeland. His child’s mother turns out to be an Immortal herself who has stepped in for unknown reasons. While Ranulf is able to exile the new Head Librarian and install someone who won’t scheme against the Pontiff, he still cannot bring about the changes he feels are needed to address fundamental problems, changes prompted by the discovery of a secret behind the Secret History.Feeling isolated as a result of his position and his inability to love or even trust those closest to him, Ranulf realizes that he has failed. His only hope is to raise his daughter away from the Librarians and force them to accept her as his Heir.