Since its initial strike in 1347, plague, called "The Death" by those who rightly fear it, has been continuously decimating populations across the known world. By 1401, the Venetian fleet has lost so many men to the disease's swift and brutal fatality that the doge has resorted to recruiting foreigners to take up the republic's oars.
Enter Michael, a sixteen-year-old boy from a small fishing village on the Isle of Rhodes. Seeking adventure and escape from a dreary existence, Michael dreams of a larger life, perhaps even a heroic one. Little does he suspect that, within the idyllic myth of Venice the republic perpetuates and he is eager to embrace, a concerted, systematic attack on innocence as gruesome as "The Death" itself will quickly obliterate his juvenile misconceptions and initiate him into a grown-up world where his physical strength, his religious faith, and his very identity are challenged. Learning how to navigate both the seas his galley travels as well as the circuitous social machinations of Venice that mirror the city's intricate canal system, Michael comes of age.
What does his growth cost him? Where do his decisions lead? Can conscience trump cowardice? What, in the end, defines a man?