Alise Kincarron is a younger daughter of the middle-class Trader family Kincarron. Alise is described as having wide-set gray eyes, a heart-shaped face, a wide mouth with full lips, freckles, and dark red curly hair. She is considered plain or even unattractive by most in Bingtown. Despite being presented to society, she remained unmarried at twenty-one. This lack of attention from suitors came as a devastating blow to her self-esteem. In response, Alise resigned herself to spinsterhood, and turned her attention to studying the dragons and Elderlings. Alise considers herself a scholar, and takes great pride in copying, translating, reading and purchasing every scroll related to dragons and Elderlings she can get her hands on.
The wealthy Trader Hest Finbok begins to court Alise, much to her surprise. Hest admits that he is courting Alise for his own convenience, because their mutual friend Sedric Meldar had suggested that Alise was independent enough to allow Hest to continue his current lifestyle. After Hest promises that she will have free rein to pursue her scholarly interests, Alise accepts his marriage proposal. As their wedding approaches, Alise develops normal romantic ideas for their marriage. However, their marriage immediately sours. Hest is unkind and inattentive, frequently away from home, and only occasionally interested in cruel, perfunctory sex with Alise as a means to conceive an heir.
Growing ever more unhappy despite having an ample allowance to indulge in buying every rare scroll regarding Elderlings and dragons she can find, Alise finally exercises a clause in her marriage contract which allows her to travel to the Rain Wilds to visit the young dragons. Hest reluctantly concedes her right to do so, but insists that Sedric accompany her. Alise books passage to Trehaug aboard the liveship Paragon.
On the journey upriver, Paragon requests to speak to Alise. Alise learns that the dragon hatchlings are stunted, malformed, and likely possess few ancestral memories, which discourages her. After docking in Trehaug, Alise and Sedric board the barge Tarman to the final leg of their journey to Cassarick, where the dragons are housed. Captain Leftrin is immediately smitten with Alise, and she is granted stay in his stateroom for their trip.
During her visit to Cassarick she discovers the dragons are to be sent up the Rain Wild River to be moved immediately to a more suitable location, perhaps even to discover the lost city of Kelsingra. Upset with the situation, Alise signs aboard the Tarman expedition as a consultant in hopes of safeguarding the dragons as she researches them.
She attempts to communicate with the dragons to document their experiences and memories, but they are very reluctant to speak of dragon things to humans. She focuses on the dragon queen Sintara, falling under her dragon glamour, and praising her lavishly which the dragon likes so much she declares her her second keeper.
Alise builds a rapport with several of the dragons and keepers, particularly Sintara and Thymara. Throughout the journey her dragonlore knowledge, her unique ability to get the dragons to open up to her, and optimistic nature helps the group push forward. When they nearly die during a horrific flood of acidic water, she overcomes any feeling of loyalty to Hest and begins a relationship with Captain Leftrin. When Alise finds Sedrick alive, he confesses to her the affair he and Hest had carried on before and during their marriage. At the same time, however, he accused Leftrin of being in league with Jess and only getting close to Alise so he could use her to get dragon parts to sell. This brought anxiety and uncertainty regarding her relationships with both men. Eventually, Sedric realises Leftrin truly was innocent, and he was the one using Alise to get dragon parts. Encouraged by his new lover, Carson, he finally confesses his last secret to her, and she forgives him.
When the expedition finally reaches Kelsingra, Alise spends her time taking notes upon every detail of the city and is upset by any disturbances of the ruins. When she rebukes the keepers for taking Elderling clothing to themselves to replace their worn rags, Rapskal replies the keepers are now Elderlings and have every right to the city and it's contents. The dragon Mercor also informs her that the ruins will be disturbed but will not be pillaged, and the dragons instead intend to restore Kelsingra as the City of Dragons.
Alise's self-image changes dramatically after the dragons and keepers declare their vision of Kelsingra's restoration. Distraught at the apparent futility of her years of study, she even imagines how it would feel if she threw herself into the river to die. But instead of "ending her life", she chooses to "end this life" by accepting the vision of the keepers and focusing on using her knowledge to help rebuild the city.
Alise participates in searching of the memories preserved in stone in an attempt to learn how to heal the badly wounded Tintaglia. This affects her mind however, and Leftrin commands that she sleep on Tarman instead of in the city for her own well-being.
Hest unwillingly arrives in Kelsingra and attempts to reassert his rights as Alise's husband. Alise rejects Hest's claims entirely, counter-claiming that he violated the terms of their wedding agreement from the very first night by maintaining an adulterous relationship with Sedric. Hest disappears shortly afterwards, freeing Alise to marry Leftrin and travel with him on the Tarman.