The book opens with the words, "Long ago, the monster known as the Skin-Taker was once a man...", later the first chapter starts. The Skin-Taker, once a man named Thade Soben, has left the Abyssal Kingdom, curious about a world of colors he had heard about. He finds himself in the Glittering Islands, and sees color for the first time. He is amazed by the beauty around him, but soon realizes there is no one living there.
He is about to return to the Abyssal Kingdom, believing that no one lives in this world (he does not realize there was more to this world than just the island he was on), when he finds Lillian on the shore, shipwrecked. He nurses her back to health using magic. When she wakes up, she recognizes by his pale white skin and pitch black hair that he is from the Abyssal kingdom. Thade, surprised, asks how she knew this. She states one of her crew members was from the Abyssal Kingdom. She then invites him to join her crew. Thade, stunned, states he does not even know anything about this world, although he had sailed for a while as a child.
Lillian asks how long he had sailed, and Thade says he only sailed for 12 years. Lillian laughs, saying that is a lot of experience, but Thade protests that in his world that is not a lot of experience at all. Eventually, Lillian talks him into joining her crew after finding out his reluctance was a result of the cruelty of his former captain, who forced him to skin their enemies and use his powers to learn their secrets. She reassures him that will not happen to him at all.
When the Tarantula Crew comes and picks her up, Thade is introduced to Percy, who at the time is a brave young cabin boy. He is then introduced to Boar (quartermaster), the cook (unnamed), and finally, Red Mary . Something about Red Mary gives him the chills, but he ignores it. He later asks who the captain is, to which Lillian laughs and exclaims, "You're lookin' at her! You didn't think I was just on this crew for my good looks, did you?" This causes Thade to blush.
That night, Thade refers to the reader and begins to talk about how this world looked like his on at night, when he sees the moon and stars. He runs into Lillian's cabin exclaiming that the sky is torn. Lillian explains stars and the moon to him, and encourages him to go back to sleep, which he is unable to do because of his fascination. She later has to explain the sunrise and sunset. She also asks Percy to explain colours to him. Unfortunately, Thade wants a name for every shade of every color, since he knows the names for every shade of grey, plus black and white. This frustrates Percy greatly. Thade then looks in a mirror and notices his cheeks are turning a creamish color. Boar explains that after being here for a while, color will be added to him, just like with Red Mary, who turned... well, red.
The story flashes forward two years, to when Red Mary betrays them and burns the ship. Thade desperately helps Lillian into the lifeboat with Percy and Boar. His hand is burnt. The fate of the rest of the crew is unknown, though several lifeboats can be seen. They barely get away, and Red Mary's evil cackling can be heard.
After a few moments, Thade begins laughing like a hyena, tears steaming down his face, and his jaw grinding in the way it does when he is the Skin-Taker. Percy, who had lost every ounce of courage from the events, exclaims that Thade has gone mad. Lillian murmurs that Percy is right, and tries to calm Thade.
Later, after they land on and island and take refuge in a village, Thade is missing. He left a note saying he left for their own safety, and to try and regain his sanity.
"I will return when I think I can handle myself better. Yours truly, Thade."
The book ends with the Skin-Taker holding a locket with a picture of himself (as Thade) and the Taratula crew together.
- This was another instance where Skin-Taker (as Thade Soben in this book) broke the fourth wall.
- It's a topic of speculation if the Skin-Taker itself is the narrator of the book.
- It is speculated by fans that since Conea does not live on the ship, he probably survived.
- The fact Thade Soben's ability was used on his previous crew is strange, considering Abyssians don't die, suggesting either he was forced to skin Abyssians alive, or that there are non-Abyssian sailing crews in the Abyssal kingdom, possibly made up of Abyssal Monsters.