Nailer may be about 15 years old (he is not sure how old he is) but he is tough and able to fend for himself. He lives in a post apocalyptic world of destroyed cities and ruined environment. His job is to crawl into abandoned ships and remove the copper wire before the heavy crews take the ship apart for scavenge. His father is a drunk who beats him up and his mother died some time ago. In this harsh world Nailer has to fend for himself and at the same time work so that his crew makes quota.
After a massive storm wipes away much of the industry Nailer makes a discovery of his own - a swank clipper ship broken up. He has an opportunity to strip the ship and finally break away from his life of poverty and hard labour. Yet in the midst of the ship he discovers a girl who is in need of his help. Does he risk losing this opportunity to help someone who means nothing to him?
This futuristic book seems to paint such a bleak picture. People who in living in the harsh environment seem to lose much of what makes for civilisation, half dog, half humans who know only loyal servitude to their masters and still the privileged trader class who are themselves in a war of betrayal and take over. Nevertheless the character of Nailer is admirable. He faces his own vulnerabilities and questions whether he will follow after his father's violent and extreme ways.