Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin is an eccentric scientist living in the city of New Crobuzon with his Khepri girlfriend Lin. While Lin, an artist, is commissioned to create a sculpture of mob boss Mr. Motley, Isaac is offered a unique challenge. He is approached by the garuda Yagharek, who asks for the restoration of his wings which were cut off by his tribe as punishment for a crime that he claims has no human equivalent. Isaac is sparked by the seemingly impossible nature of the task, and gathers all manners of flying beasts to study in his lab - including a multicolored, unidentifiable larva gathered through illicit means. Once Isaac learns that the caterpillar only eats a hallucinogenic drug called "dreamshit", he begins to feed it, unwittingly stimulating its metamorphosis into an incredibly dangerous, hypnotic and monstrously large butterfly-like insect, a slake-moth, that feeds off the dreams of sentient beings, leaving them as catatonic vegetables. Later, it is revealed that dreamshit is in fact the "milk" of a fully-grown dream slake-moth, and that four other such creatures have been sold to Mr. Motley, a hideously Remade crime boss, and "milked" to produce the drug. When the fifth larva transforms and escapes, it frees its brethren, and together they plague the citizens of New Crobuzon until Isaac can find a way to stop them.