When Roland's teacher gives him an unusual assignment instead of punishment for shoplifting, he thinks he is home free. All he has to do is find out what he can about a classmate, Jess Ferret, and report back to his teacher. But there is something less than straightforward about this request, especially because the more Roland learns about Jess, the more confused he becomes. Her house is sinisterly tidy, her parents are never home, mysterious books line the bookshelves, and, most intriguing of all, Jess is apparently a student of alchemy. Why is Roland's teacher so interested in Jess? Why has a shady magician from Roland's past suddenly come back into his life? What exactly are the voices in Roland's head cautioning him against? And what is the reason for Jess Ferret's knowledge about alchemy? In searching for answers Roland finds himself trapped in a mysterious web of magic, power, and greed. This is the story of a terrifying war of magic versus willpower, told only as award-winning author Margaret Mahy can.