A recently bereaved widow 'holds a revered position in a mythical village: her all-important task is to sheath the newly dead in clay, so that they can be built into the wall that surrounds the village. This morbid but honourable task is reflected in Warren’s own writing: she’s taken a potentially gruesome topic and rendered it in such beautifully crafted prose that it becomes a work of art. Her juxtaposition of the villagers — with their religious fervour and long-held traditions — and her grieving central character’s budding cynicism, creates a poignant, melancholy dichotomy' (Tim Kroenert, Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus).
Following an ecological disaster on Earth, humans take to space in rockets. Plutonium has left many people disabled; these 'misfits' are all left behind on Earth, where they attempt to rebuild society.
The protagonist, a pregnant woman with a blind cobbler husband, works with the judge. A series of infanticides sweeps their community: mothers are killing their 'perfect' children because of the growing arrogance of older, able-bodied children. After the protagonist's husband is assaulted at the school, the protagonist shifts the crime of the infanticides to the judge, who loved the children and wanted them to be perfect, thus protecting the actual murderers.
The protagonist comes from a family with angioedema: her father is bed-bound and her younger sister will die in ten years. The protagonist meets a witch who teaches her how to find and steal life from recently dead bodies by burning fetuses, which send up a purple smoke visible only to her.
Years on, the protagonist is running an illegal abortion clinic with her partner, Dr Matthews. They play on pregnant women's fears that their children will be born 'imperfect', with intellectual or physical disabilities, and so convince them to have an abortion instead. The protagonist takes fetuses from these operations and uses them to continue living. Her sister dies as she refuses to help.