A generation before the beginning of the book, peace activists unwittingly released a plague that destroyed most of humanity. In San Francisco a sparse population of artists, bookworms, and other free thinkers and outsiders live on in a nearly empty city pursuing their interests and artistic passions with little concern for the outside world.
Meanwhile in Sacramento, a more active group led by a man who calls himself General 'Four Star' Miles is seeking to rebuild the state in a more old fashioned mold. Miles is leading an army south and planning on reestablishing the state of California and the rest of the old order by force if necessary.
Jax and her mother live outside of the city, and when her mother learns of the coming military attack she tells Jax to go warn the inhabitants of the city. She succeeds and the inhabitants organize their resistance. However it is a most unusual one, due to the nature of the locals.
A mix of pacifists and anarchists there is little agreement on how exactly to proceed aside from a determination that to fight the enemy with violence is to become the enemy. They use guerilla warfare tactics combined with unusual artistic inspired trickery and nonviolent means to repel the invading soldiers, causing them to become disoriented and frightened but leaving them unharmed. On several instances they overwhelm or sedate them and pin a note to them explaining that a) they could have killed them and b) the solider in question should now remove themselves from the conflict. This leads to many desertions.
During all of this Jax learns more about herself and her mother's past (she was one of the activists responsible for the plague) while becoming close to another teenager named Danny Boy. Danny Boy is in favor of the pacifist tactics, while Jax plays along but is more skeptical. She also slowly realizes that she has found a community she can belong to in the inhabitants of the city and wants to defend it. We also see several instances in which the city itself seems to resist the invasion through supernatural means, for example by sending a sudden thick fog to envelop some of the soldiers and casting strange apparitions.
Eventually things come to a head when Jax is captured by the enemy. She is sentenced to death and Four Star erects a scaffold in the center of the city for a public execution in an attempt to demoralize the resistance. Unable to maintain his pacifism at the cost of her life, Danny Boy waits until Four Star takes the stage to hang Jax and shots him dead from a nearby building. One of the general's soldiers shoots Danny Boy in turn.
One of the city's defenders gets on a bullhorn and prevents further violence by the panicked soldiers by announcing that the ground under their feet is packed with explosives. The citizens offer them a choice, now that their leader is dead they can choose to stay or leave as they wish, but the war is over. Jax is released, and the rebels tell her Danny Boy hatched the plan the night before, he volunteered to be the one to kill the general and the explosives were just a lie.
After it is all over, Jax remains in the city she helped defend.
Best part of story, including ending:
It's an interesting look at the moral choices we make in order to defend ourselves, and whether peace can be achieved through violence.
Best scene in story:
There is a scene where the paint on the Golden Gate Bridge, which has been painted blue by some artists, turns into a cloud of little blue butterflies. It's magical and an indication that more is going on that meets the eye.
Opinion about the main character:
Jax is a believable angry teen, raised with a mother who carried the burden of her secret past. She is torn between the idealistic beliefs of the city dwellers and the practicality of fighting against soldiers with lethal weapons.