Feyre is a 19-year-old hunter who is desperate to find food for her family. With their meat and bread now gone, Feyre, her father and two older sisters face starvation. Deep in the woods she sees a deer, but before she can kill it, an enormous wolf attacks the deer. Based on the wolf’s size, Feyre suspects it is a Fae in animal form. Fueled by her hatred of the Fae, she shoots and kills the wolf with an ash arrow and takes the deer home.
Soon, another Fae in wolf form comes to Feyre’s house and demands payment, a life for a life, as required by the treaty between human and Fae realms. Rather than be killed, Feyre decides to go with the wolf to Prythian, the Fae kingdom in the north and on the other side of a wall between their realms.
The shape-shifting Fae is called Tamlin, High Lord of Spring Court, who lives in a large estate in perpetual spring. Feyre expects to be imprisoned for murder, but to her surprise, she is allowed to live freely on the estate. When Tamlin shape-shifts back to Fae, he wears a mask, as do all the servants and Tamlin’s best friend, Lucien. Feyre is told that the masks are magically attached and cannot be removed due to a magical blight in Prythian.
Feyre worries that the blight will spread past the wall and eventually affect her family in the human realm. As the person who provided food for her family, she also worries they will starve without her, but Tamlin assures her that he has provided for them.
Like most humans, Feyre resents the Fae. Tamlin tries to befriend her by teaching her to read and giving her space and supplies to paint, but she does not like or trust him. It becomes clear that both Tamlin and Lucien are keeping information about the blight from her. When Feyre learns of a Suriel, a faerie who is compelled to tell the truth once captured, she captures it. She learns that a powerful king rules the neighboring faerie kingdom of Hybern. He resents the peace treaty other ruling High Fae made with humans.
One hundred years ago, the king dispatched his own Fae to Prythian to infiltrate the seven High Courts, but 50 years ago, one of his commanders disobeyed him. Before the Suriel can tell Feyre more, other faerie creatures attack her, and she only survives when Tamlin appears to help her fight. Afterward, Feyre and Tamlin are more trusting of each other.
As time goes on at the estate, strange and brutal warnings are left for Tamlin and Lucien to find. A faerie from the Summer Court is found near death with his wings ripped off by a mysterious woman that no one will tell Feyre about. Feyre overhears conversations about the woman and later learns she is Amarantha, one of the Hybern king’s commanders and now the self-proclaimed queen of Prythian.
At the summer solstice celebration, Feyre gets drunk on faerie wine and dances while Tamlin plays the fiddle. They sneak off to a field where they kiss. The next day, Rhysand, High Lord of the Night Court and Amarantha’s lover, arrives unexpectedly at the estate and discovers Feyre.
Tamlin begs Rhysand not to tell Amarantha about Feyre. Rhysand toys with them and then promises nothing. Rhysand demands Feyre’s identity. Fearing for her family’s safety, she lies and says the first name that pops into her head: Clare Beddor, a girl from her village. Rhysand tells them that Amarantha will enjoy breaking Feyre while Tamlin watches helplessly.
After Rhysand leaves, Tamlin decides to send Feyre back to her family in the human realm. On their last night together, they have sex. Tamlin tells Feyre that he loves her. While she feels the same way, Feyre doesn’t tell him.
When Feyre returns to the human realm, her family is no longer living in poverty but in a fine house with servants. Everything has been provided for them, just as Tamlin promised. Additionally, they have been glamoured with magic to believe that Feyre has been living with an aunt all this time. As Feyre settles back into life at home, she learns that Clare Beddor’s home has been burned to the ground. Feyre is fearful that the Fae are responsible and that things must be terribly wrong in the Spring Court, so she decides to go back.
She returns to Prythian to find Tamlin’s estate almost deserted and in shambles. Only Alis, a servant, remains as everyone else has been taken to Amarantha’s court under a sacred mountain in Prythian. Alis tells Feyre that Amarantha, Hybern’s most lethal general, fought in the mortal war with her sister Clythia. Clythia fell in love with a human warrior, Jurian, who eventually betrayed Clythia, and Amarantha has despised humans ever since.
Amarantha came to Prythian as an emissary from Hybern 100 years ago, but she was plotting to take Prythian for her own and eventually attack the human realm. Forty-nine years ago, she struck, tricking and using magic to steal power from the seven High Lords of Prythian. The Fae have been her slaves ever since.
A curse was put on Tamlin and the entire Spring Court after he refused to become Amarantha’s lover and consort. To break the curse, Tamlin was to find a human girl who killed a Fae out of hatred then make her fall in love with him. The magic prevented anyone from telling Feyre, and since she didn’t tell Tamlin that she loved him in time, Amarantha was free to take him and his entire court. The masks were a part of the curse, and the blight is really Amarantha’s magic taking over Prythian. Feyre decides to defeat Amarantha or die trying. She knows that Tamlin’s life, and the survival of the Spring Court, Prythian and the human realm, are at stake.
Feyre convinces Alis to show her the way to Amarantha’s court Under the Mountain. On her way there, Feyre is caught and taken before the queen. Tamlin pretends to not know Feyre so that Amarantha won’t know how much he cares. Feyre is forced to make a deal with the queen. If she completes three tasks in one a month, Tamlin and all the Fae Courts will be freed. However, she can immediately break the curse and free everyone if she solves a riddle, but if she guesses wrong, she will be tortured and killed. Feyre decides to do the tasks rather than take the chance with an incorrect guess.
Feyre completes the first task, hunting a giant, carnivorous worm through an underground maze, but she is badly wounded. Feyre is near death when Rhysand comes to her cell and heals her, but not before making a bargain. If she survives the challenges, she must spend a week of every month with him for the rest of her life. He marks her arm and hand with an elaborate tattoo to seal their deal. At night, Rhysand forces Feyre to wear revealing clothing, attend Amarantha’s parties as his guest and flaunts her in front of Tamlin. Tamlin, who is never allowed to see Feyre outside of the challenges, feigns indifference.
Her second task is to solve a riddle inscribed on a wall, but since Feyre can’t read, she doesn’t know which answer to choose. Rhysand helps her choose the correct answer by communication through the eye tattooed on her palm. They now share a bond through the tattoo. Later when they are alone in her cell, Rhysand admits to her that he wants to be free of Amarantha and hopes that Feyre wins.
For the third task, Amarantha asks Feyre to kill three innocent Fae. At first, Feyre is aghast at the thought of committing cold-blooded murder, but she realizes she must complete the task to save Tamlin, Prythian and the human realm. She tells herself that it’s three lives to save so many others.
The Fae are brought out with their heads covered, and she kills the first two. When the third turns out to be Tamlin, she doesn’t know what to do. She remembers all the times that Tamlin allowed her to eavesdrop on his conversations. She guesses correctly that he has a heart of stone and shoves the dagger in his chest. She is right, and as Tamlin is slowly recovering, Amarantha is livid.
Amarantha points out that she never said when she would release Tamlin from the curse, just that she would. Using magic, Amarantha starts breaking Feyre’s bones, demanding that she confesses that she never loved Tamlin. As she is dying, Feyre finally guesses the answer to the riddle; as specified in the bargain, all of Spring Court is released immediately.
Tamlin, with all his power back, attacks and kills Amarantha, but not before she breaks Feyre’s neck. Feyre is dead. Feyre’s soul watches everything that is happening through the bond with Rhysand. As Tamlin cradles her, the High Lords of all the Fae courts offer up magic and restore Feyre’s life, making her an immortal High Fae. The mountain is destroyed, but Feyre feels like there is a pit in her soul for the innocent Fae she killed. She is still bonded to Rhysand and will have to spend time in the Night Court as promised, but for now, she, Tamlin, and the rest of Spring Court go home.