Sixteen-year-old Repentance Atwater hates living in the breeder village. She hates the foggy swamp, she hates that the other villagers think she's cursed because of her light complexion, and, most of all, she hates the thought of "buttoning" with Sober Marsh and breeding little slave babies for the overlords.
But the law is clear: Anyone who refuses to button and breed is taken away and sold as a slave on the overlord mountain. Repentance won't be taken alone, either. Sober Marsh, her intended button mate, will be ripped away from his family and sold, as well.
Before the night of her Button Ceremony is over, Repentance has devastated her family and ruined Sober's life. But worse things are coming on the overlord mountain. Repentance's stubborn idealism and unruly tongue enrage the king, and she winds up endangering her entire her village.