Rye is 16, the youngest of three brothers. His older two brothers both have gone to find and stop whoever is sending skimmers (birds that have been coming to the walled city for seven years no, killing and eating people and animals and destroying gardens) outside the wall through special magical doors. The skimmers had killed their father as he worked on the wall. The wall had been built to protect the people, but now it only locks them in as they are prey for the predatory birds. Rye is not old enough to join them. Each in their turn is presumed dead, as they do not return. The skimmers destroy the family garden, and they go to the Keep, government poor house, to be cared for. Mother is to work in the kitchens, and Rye to the children’s home. However Rye volunteers to go through the doors instead, even though he is too young. Sonia joins him, at her insistence. Sonia is a young woman who travels through the castle in the chimney system.
When Rye gets to the place of choosing, he chooses the Golden door. He is sure his oldest brother went this way and he is alive, and he is in need. Rye and Sonia find a new world. Nothing like the maps they have seen. This is a very dangerous world, but somehow Rye pleases the Fellans, magical keepers of the forest who do not get involved. They give Rye 9 magical powers via tokens in a bag. Rye feels he has tricked them, but accepts the tokens. He is not sure what his gifts do, but he does learn a few of them before the end of the book. The protect him. He can run fast, become invisible, has a light, ability to see through things, and can swim and can fly.
This country is one where every seven years, Olt, the ruler, kills by gruesome means, for the magical power of longer life. He is set to kill seven young people. Rye's brother, his brother’s girlfriend, and Sonia all end up as people fit for killing as they must be strong, and unblemished. How can Rye save them?