Twenty years after the events in The Selection, King Maxon Schreave and Queen America Schreave have changed the laws to eliminate their society’s caste system. They also have made it possible for their first-born daughter, Eadlyn, to inherit the throne of Illea, a position that would have previously gone to her younger brother. Eighteen-year-old Eadlyn Schreave, born seven minutes before her twin brother, Ahren, is being groomed to be the country’s first female ruler. Maxon and America also have two other sons: Kaden, 14, and Osten, 10.
While the people of Illea were initially happy about the caste system being dissolved, post-caste discrimination has led to rioting and acts of violence across the country. The political discontent weighs heavily on the king’s shoulders. To provide a distraction, Maxon and America suggest that Eadlyn hold her own Selection. Eadlyn is furious with her parents for suggesting a Selection as she doesn’t feel ready for marriage and doesn’t want to marry a stranger.
After discussing the country’s political state with Ahren, Eadlyn reluctantly decides to indulge her father’s diversionary plan. She promises to hold a Selection for three months but makes no guarantees that she will pick a husband at the end of the process. Her parents agree, not knowing that Eadlyn has no intention of choosing a winner and plans to make the Selection as unpleasant as possible, encouraging the men to leave.
From the eligible pool of applicants, 35 men are chosen at random, one from each of the provinces across Illea. Among the Selected are Kile Woodward, son of Marlee and Carter Woodward. Marlee was a participant in the previous Selection and is now one of America’s best friends. While the Woodwards have lived in the palace for Eadlyn’s entire life, she has never gotten along with their children, Kile and their daughter Josie. Both Eadlyn and Kile are upset that his name was drawn, but since the Selected names were announced publicly, the two have no choice but to move forward.
When Eadlyn meets the Selected for the first time, she is purposely cold to them, wanting to establish control. At dinner, she barely speaks to anyone, keeping the atmosphere tense. For the next day, she arranges for a parade through the city. She asks for the sharply dressed Hale Garner and the pleasant Henri Jaakoppi to stand beside her on the float as the other Selected walk beside it.
Henri has recently immigrated from Swendway, speaks very little English and needs his translator, Erik, to help him communicate during the Selection. The parade is stopped after people throw food and yell insults at Eadlyn. For the first time, she realizes the people of Illea do not universally love her.
After the disaster of the parade, Eadlyn decides to convince the public that she is serious about the Selection so she narrows down the group by publicly eliminating 11 participants. Most of them leave embarrassed or angry. Her plans backfire. The media consider her action cold and smug, further proof of her disinterest in her own Selection.
To provide some romance, Eadlyn asks Kile, the only Selected she knows and can trust, to go on a pretend date and kiss her at the end, where a hidden photographer can take a picture. Kile takes Eadlyn to his room where he shows her his sketches and tells her about his dreams of escaping life in the palace and becoming an architect. Afterward, he walks her to her room and kisses her. Eadlyn is pleasantly surprised by Kile’s hopes and dreams and by how much she enjoys his kiss.
Eadlyn makes an effort to go on more dates with the Selected. She goes to the palace roof for dessert with Hale who talks about his family and his work as a tailor’s apprentice. She tells him that she loves fashion and sketches dress designs, but when he asks her to see them, she feels as if he is trying to get too close to her, and she abruptly leaves the date.
She goes on an impromptu date with Baden Trains. She plays piano while he plays his guitar, and she enjoys herself. Between dates, Eadlyn secretly spends time with Kile, mostly kissing him. When he tries to talk to her about the things that are stressing her out, she cuts him off and asks him to leave. Eadlyn goes on a movie date with Jack Ranger, who gets aggressive with her and touches her inappropriately. Sensing that Jack gets excited by violence, she panics and runs, barely getting away from him before finding a guard. Jack is kicked out of the Selection.
After the scare with Jack, Eadlyn makes a better effort to have guards or photographers around during her dates. During her date with the ever-confident and elegant Ean, she learns that Ean wants her to choose him if she doesn’t find love at the end of the Selection. He would be happy to settle for life as a prince consort. He would allow her to do whatever she wants, with no strings attached. Eadlyn tells him she will consider it.
Eadlyn goes on a cooking group date with Burke Renn, Erik, Fox Wesley, Henri and Kile. The group splits up into teams to make different parts of a three-course meal. The date turns sour when Burke becomes furious at Henri, a professional chef, for making a spectacular dessert. Burke’s appetizer (made with Fox’s help) is a failure. Burke punches Fox and accidentally pushes Eadlyn to the floor during the fight, while Kile and Henri try to break up the fight.
Erik pulls Eadlyn away from the fight and to the security of her room. The two talk and form a bond. Burke is immediately sent home but Fox, not responsible for the brawl, is allowed to stay. Eadlyn secretly kisses Kile again, but opens up and talks to him this time, realizing she is happy he is one of the Selected.
Eadlyn continues to experience highs and lows: She learns that the poor don’t think dissolving the caste system benefited them, and they want an end to the monarchy. She shares a sweet, gentle kiss with Henri and realizes that she really cares for some of the Selected. Baden leaves the Selection, as he doesn’t believe Eadlyn is giving him enough attention. He tells the media that she is cold, pushy and selfish.
With so much going wrong, Eadlyn decides to invite the crown princess of France, Camille, to the palace. Camille and Ahren are madly in love and Eadlyn hopes this visit will distract the people of Illea from all the things going wrong with the Selection. Eadlyn is jealous of Camille — how much she is loved by both Ahren and the French people. A few days into the visit, Eadlyn sees how besotted Ahren is and advises him to break up with Camille as she may not be “the one.” And if a marriage to her ends badly, it would be a political nightmare for their countries.
The next night, the royal family is informed that Ahren and Camille secretly eloped to France. Eadlyn runs to her room, where she finds a letter from Ahren asking for forgiveness and explaining his actions. Ahren tells Eadlyn that he knows she dislikes Camille because she is afraid Camille will take him from his family. Since he would do anything for Eadlyn, including taking the throne if she asked him to, he chose his soul mate before Eadlyn could ask. He also tells Eadlyn that Camille is open to her people and handles her power with humility. Eadlyn keeps people at a distance and wields her power like a sword. As a result, many provinces don’t want her as their future ruler, and she is one of the reasons they are rioting. Ahren advises her to open herself to her people, to be brave and feminine at the same time, and to find love.
Eadlyn is furious and goes to her parents’ room to discuss the letter. Instead of finding her parents, she finds pictures of Maxon and America’s life together, their wedding and the birth of their children. In these pictures, she sees how much her parents love each other and understands why Ahren would choose Camille over his duty to her and his family.
Guards find Eadlyn and tell her that America had a heart attack after learning of the elopement. Heart disease runs in the family and killed America’s father and older sister. Eadlyn hurries to the palace’s medical wing, where she finds her father crying and the Selected men praying for America’s recovery. Eadlyn realizes that she may never find the kind of love that her parents share, or what Ahren and Camille have, but she is now willing to open herself up to love. She becomes determined to finish her Selection and to have a ring on her finger by the end of it.