Septimus is trying to take his place as the youngest son of the Heap family, and the Apprentice to the intimidating Extra-Ordinary Wizard, Marcia (who is still wearing her purple python pointy shoes). Jenna is learning what it means to be the Princess. The Heap family has greatly changed; Silas & Sarah now live in the Castle along with Jenna, and are trying very hard to learn to manage the huge empty building, left bare and sad after 10 years occupation by the Custodian Army. Nicko is a Apprenticed to a boat-builder and lives by the Harbor. Sam, Jo-jo, Edd & Erik have decided to stay on in the Forest at "Camp Heap." Septimus lives in the Wizard Tower under Marcia's supervision. That leaves Simon... unfortunately he returns just as the book begins, bent on getting back at the twerpy younger brother who took (was offered) the Apprenticeship he'd long desired. He kidnaps Jenna, despite having grown up with her as his beloved little sister; to him she is now the one responsible for ruining his life and the cozy family life he once had. When none of the grown-ups believe that he would do such a thing, Septimus & Nicko set off to find her.