When Winnie was thirteen, her settlement taught her how to fire a rifle. Her school practiced drills in case raiders came, and the town grew crops in their greenhouse-adapted homes, which were the only places warm enough during the worldwide nuclear winter.
The Lakiran empire invades—a corporate-born nation overseen by their corporate-born queen, Victoria Paladino. They ride silent planes whose repulsion field veered bullets away.
Three years of occupation later, an exemplar visits—a member of Victoria’s oversight committee rumored to read minds. He tells Winnie that she may have a unique mental power, or a flair. At the empire’s capital, the queen herself tutors Winnie to help her reach the full potential of whatever power she may have.
Meanwhile, in post-war Nigeria, a streetwise teenager named Naema sees a different side of the empire. Between corruption and oppression, everyone lives in squaller. People fight over assembled food pastes. She too is told she has a unique flair, not by the empire, but by a fugitive woman who is the last vestige of an ancient witch coven, and she knows a dark secret about what the exemplars do to people like Winnie and Naema.