The book alternates mythic-style ancient history with recent observations.
Once upon a time there was a species of pure evil, which used others' pain as fuel for magic that warped bodies; they would use a fraction of their power to heal their victims whenever necessary, then torment them yet further. In bygone days in a great working, the details of which are now lost, they were deprived of their magic and imprisoned, powerless, in human bodies, to reincarnate as humans for all time.
There are two recentish accounts from people who claim to have recovered memories from that time, claiming there were evil ones with claws and gleaming eyes who ruled over areas of unknown size in luxury the likes of which the world has never seen since. There are quite a lot of recent somewhat more trustworthy accounts of people believed to be unable to do magic; there are some no one ever caught at anything, but in areas where they can get away with it, they find excuses to hurt people - some of them have legal outlets like slavery, some break the law, some no one can pin anything on but bad luck follows them. The modern anecdotes get pretty horrible. The author apparently met one, who was nothing but polite, and got a chance to sketch the guy's slave (the sketch is included in the book and shows notable scarring and both legs missing from above the knee). Apparently the evil fellow (the book records that they've been called demons, and the fair ones, and the old ones, and the smiling ones, and "those we don't speak of", and the cold ones, and changelings, and wrong, and sons of ruin, but itself only calls them "the others" and "people without magic" and "the supposed third species"), on being asked why he did that, just smiled and said, "What, you've learned enough of my kind to write a book, and you have to ask? I wanted to."
There are stories of their vengeance, of famine and plague following the sealing. There are stories of towns seeing their first deaths in centuries - and stories of people thousands of years old pulled out of dungeons speaking no modern tongues and weeping at the sight of the open sky. There are stories of the heroes who reshaped the world, many contradictory ones, different sets of heroes and different nations of origin.
There are ruins and tombs that have been excavated recently that might be from before, and they do seem consistent with societies with a lot of leisure time and lower-than-current infant mortality. Some of the skeletons are warped and don't look as though they were pleasant shapes to be. There are rumors about excavated jars that could possibly contain souls.
The book talks about what Sealing Day means now (it's a story of triumph and hope and courage and, for some reason, people wear extra fancy hats about it), and how it came to its current cultural position (probably has to do with a fad a couple centuries ago for morality plays about ancient history and myth), and where the current customs come from, and whether it's actually celebrated on the anniversary (maybe).