Jorian , ex-king of Xylar, has had enough adventures to last a lifetime. But when his brother Kerin , youngest son of Evor the Clockmaker, commits an indescretion with Adeliza , a neighbor's daughter, he is packed off on a hasty quest to uncover the secret of an advanced clock escapement for the family firm. A pragmatic, cautious sort, he preps for his journey with a crash course from his experienced brother in useful skills— swordsmanship and foreign tongues, of course, but also lying and burglary. He is hampered and sometimes aided by the sprite Belinka , commissioned by the calculating Adeliza to ensure Kerin's faithfulness.
Kerin's goal takes him east across the Inner Sea , the Sea of Sikhon and the Eastern Ocean to the empire of Kuromon , where he is promised the secret in return for a magical fan lost centuries before. It has the property of making whatever it is waved at disappear without a trace. Along the way he must contend with a treacherous sea captain and his suspicious navigator, the duplicitous sorcerer Pwana , and the pirate crew of Malgo , who has a grudge against Kerin's family.
A more pleasant complication is Nogiri , a princess of the island empire of Salimor , whom Kerin has liberated (much to the displeasure of Belinka) from the pirates. Kerin returns her to Salimor only to lose her to the nefarious designs of Pwana, and a dire fate from which she can only be preserved by a daring rescue— on roller skates!
Finally Kuromon is reached and negotiations are concluded satisfactorily, but only at the cost of an unexpected regime change by fan...
The book's cover photo (see illustration), depicting part of Kerin's rescue of Nogiri, is a clear allusion to the famous balcony scene in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet - with magic elements added.