Malta grows up in Bingtown, the spoiled only daughter of Kyle and Keffria. She is raised by her Chalcedean father to be ladylike and retiring, a marked contrast to her aunt Althea Vestrit and her grandmother Ronica Vestrit, who are strong, outspoken and independent.
Malta is petite and pretty, womanly at an early age. She loves beautiful and elaborate clothing, to the extent that before a Trader's Ball, she sneaks off and commissions a dress she imagines to be the height of fashion, but which, on her arrival, proves to be tawdry and inappropriate. When another Trader family discovers her before she can enter the Ball proper, and instructs her to go home, she accidentally catches the eye of Reyn Khuprus, a mysterious, veiled, Rain Wilder.
Malta is flirtatious and likes the idea of stringing her beaux along, enjoying a sense of achievement that they would fight to be with her. She all but commits herself to Cerwin Trell, while accepting courting gifts from Reyn which have more significance than she realizes; she shares a dream-box with Reyn and the Khuprus family offers to forgive the debt on the Vestrit liveship Vivacia in return for betrothal to Reyn.
When Bingtown is threatened by pirates, slave riots and war with Jamaillia, Malta finds her hidden depths of strength. After Kheffria, Malta and Selden flee to the Rain Wilds to take shelter with the Khuprus family, Malta and Reyn deepen their courtship and Malta bonds with and helps to free Tintaglia.
She survives an earthquake and escapes by the skin of her teeth with the ruler of Jamaillia, Satrap Cosgo. They, along with Cosgo's Companion, are picked up by Chalcedean slavers, where they remain until Vivacia, turned pirate under Captain Kennit, takes them as hostages. There, Malta is reunited with her brother Wintrow Vestrit and her aunt Althea. Reyn finds her there with help from Tintaglia, and after a complicated series of negotiations that result in a new political alliance between Bingtown and Jamaillia, Tintaglia confirms Malta is an Elderling through their mutual association.