The novel is a retelling of the original Scottish fairytale, The Border ballad. It also pulls inspiration from the Beauty and the Beast, along with faerie lore. It follows the protagonist, Feyre who finds herself entwined with faeries after unknowingly killing one.
When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from the legends of her ancestors, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin— one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world; not to mention one of the High Lords of Prythian.
As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she's been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.
- By chapters:
- Chapter 1: We meet Feyre, a hungry young woman, a huntress hunting her prey in the woods near the wall where few dare to go. She hates faeries and at the last moment (her family was hungry for days already) a doe appears but she notices an extremely big wolf watching the doe as well. She lets the wolf kill the doe and she kills him with an ash arrow to his side and fires another into his yellow eye. She skins the wolf and takes doe with her. The conclusion of the chapter in a way is: But this was the forest, and it was winter,
- Chapter 2: She comes home, we meet her family, her two older sisters and her father. They don't do anything and use lame excuses to cover up for their laziness. We learn about their beliefs, we get a few glimpses from their past (mother dead, Elain's kindness, lost fortune). While she does suffer through their ignorance and sneers, she is unsatisfied, she is disappointed in them. And we hear about their drawers ;)
- Chapter 3: The three siblings rush to the local market, where they encounter the so-called "Children of the Blessed"; young people obsessed with Faes, often becoming annoying to their fellows. With Nesta's hot temper exploding over them, Feyre soon finds herself trying to get away from her. She bargains the prey with a skilled mercenary, who reveals that the wall is about to be torn down. Feyre then takes a moment to reminisce all the events leading to the war between Faes and mortals, which resulted in their world divided in two. After the woman's warnings and advice, Feyre walks away only to face Isaac Hale, her sexual partner for two years, give or take. She explains that she has little to no feelings for him, seeing him as a means to reduce her anxiety and limit the hardships she daily gets to grapple with, and the other way round. Later that afternoon, Feyre finds the family relaxing over the goods the girls have purchased for their father. It then crosses her that the matter with Thomas Mandrey, Nesta's boyfriend who wishes to wed her, is yet to be settled. As she prepares herself to elaborate on the topic, the front door shuts open and Feyre's sisters start screaming, as a huge beast walks past the doorway.
- Chapter 4: Feyre realizes that the huge beast is a Faerie. The Faerie accuses the family of murder. The family confused, says that they didn't kill anyone. Feyre asks the beast who he is referring to and he says a large wolf with a gray coat. Feyre realizes that the wolf he is asking about is the one that she killed earlier in the woods. She asks if the wolf was mistakenly killed what price she had to pay. The beast says that she has to pay the price demanded by the Treaty. The beast then asked who killed the wolf and Feyre admits to it. The beast says that she can either be killed or come to Prythian in his lands. Feyre decides to go to Prythian. Feyre leaves immediately with the beast. Feyre gives her family advice as to what to do when she leaves. As she is leaving, her father tells Feyre never to come back and that she is too good for the family.
The book begins with our heroine Feyre hunting in the woods behind her home. Her family, formerly rich but now poor due to her father's bad investments, are starving and she is the sole provider for the family since her father lost enough mobility to try to provide for them when one of the creditors they owed broke his knee. Her sisters, having never had to try to provide for themselves before, do not help her very much at their small shack in the woods.
Feyre has had to travel farther than ever before to hunt, and she is worried that she is getting close to Faerie territory. Although a treaty was made between humans and the Faerie's, Feyre knows that the Faerie's break the treaty regularly and come across the wall (an invisible boundary designating Faerie lands and human lands)to kill or torture humans.
She sees a large deer, but there's also a wolf nearby that is stalking the deer. Since she knows her family is going to starve without that deer, she shoots the wolf without having time to question whether it could be a Faerie in disguise. When her first shot doesn't kill it, she aims a second arrow at its eye, and instead of attacking her for defense it just stands there so she kills it quickly.
She and her sisters go into town to sell the wolf pelt. Her sisters only come with her because now that they know she'll make money they want some of it to spend on themselves.
They are met at the entrance to the town by an acolyte from the Children of the Blessed, a cult claiming that Faeries are good and that humans should worship them. The girl claims that many of the Children have gone to Prythian and never returned since they are so well cared for and Nesta, Feyre's sister, scoffs and says it's not because they are being taken care of but because they are probably dead. They escape quickly from the acolyte and continue into the town.
Feyre ends up selling the wolf pelt to a mercenary near the town center who offers her more money than the pelt is worth due to the fact that she says she has been in Feyres position before. On the way home, Feyre sees Isaac in town and nods her head in greeting in passing. She and Issac are lovers, but their trysts are a secret as he is going to be married soon.
The next day a large beast breaks into their house demanding retribution for the dead wolf, who was a Faerie after all. The beast, Tamlin, states that in the treaty, when a human takes a Faerie life the only option is the human life must be taken by Prythian (the Faerie realm). She and her family do not question him as they know Faeries are unable to lie. He tells her that she has two choices; die by his hand here, or forsake the human realm and live out the rest of her days in Prythian. She of course agrees to go with him so he doesn't kill her.
Tamlin uses magic to make her fall asleep so that she doesn't see the path leading from her home and she wakes when they arrive at his castle. Rather than being a prisoner, he tells her that she is free to come and go as she pleases on their grounds, but not to enter into any other court as he can't protect her there. He has changed into his human form now and she sees that he and all the other court have masquerade masks attached to their faces by magic.
She eventually starts becoming friends with Lucien, Tamlins best friend who lives at the castle, Alis, the servant who has been assigned to care for her, and also Tamlin himself. She had made a promise to her mother when her mother was dying that she would care for their family and she feels she is breaking the promise and wants to find a way home, so she doesn't allow herself to enjoy her time with them.
Feyre learns that there is a blight upon the Faerie lands that is releasing demon-like creatures throughout the courts to kill the Faerie's. The only cause mentioned at this time is a mysterious "she" who's name isn't revealed.
Feyre decides to find out some information on her own, and gets advice from Lucien on how to trap a Suriel, a type of Faerie creature who can answer any question asked of it. Feyre traps one and learns that Tamlin isn't just any Faerie, but one of the seven High Lords, ruler of the Spring court. She also asks if there's truly no way for her to ever get home and the Suriel tells her that although Faerie's CAN lie, Tamlin didn't lie to her about that, and if she wants to remain safe she needs to stay with him.
When Feyre asks about the cause of the blight, the Suriel tells her that there is another land called Hybern that is ruled by a king rather than the land being split up into courts (there are 7 courts: Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Dawn, Day, and Night). The king is unhappy with the treaty that was signed with the humans which allowed them to no longer be slaves and have lands of their own, and so a hundred years ago he sent his most trusted commanders and killers to the human and Faerie lands to begin waging a war. As spies, lovers, and courtiers they infiltrated the High Fae courts and gathered enough information that the king could make his plan to take over, but one of his commanders disobeyed and they now call them the Deceiver.
At this point, some of the vicious blight Faeries called naga find them and start to kill Feyre and the Suriel. Feyre lets the Suriel loose to run away and runs herself. She is about to be trapped when Tamlin returns from his border patrol when he hears her screams and saves her.
Tamlin and Feyre eventually have a conversation about how she wants to go home due to her promise, and he tells her he can't send her home, but that he has made sure her family is well provided for and he has altered their memories so that they just think she's gone to live with a dying great aunt. Knowing that she isn't breaking the promise to her mom and her family is being cared for, she relaxes and even begins painting again.
As she and Tamlin grow closer, he uses his magic to give her Faerie sight so that she can see and feel the things he does. She realizes she has been glamoured as he has many more Faerie workers on his grounds that she hadn't been able to see before he gave her the faerie sight and even Alis is different. Rather than being humanlike as Feyre was led to believe, Alis is another type of Faerie who has bark skin.
One night, Tamlin tells her to stay in her room and not leave the castle as he has to go to a Faerie ritual called the Great Rite. She disobeys because she wants to see what it is and although she has on a cloak to hide that she's human, she is cornered by three Faerie's who plan on raping her. She is rescued by another Faerie described as the most beautiful creature she's ever seen but she senses that he is not really a savior but rather wants something from her so she quickly gets away from him too.
Lucien spots her and whisks her quickly back to the castle, where he explains that the Great Rite is the beginning of Spring in Prythian and the human world, and that tonight, with Tamlin being high lord of the spring court, he will undergo a ritual that regenerates his magic so that he can keep his power. The magic will consume him this evening and his sole purpose will be to find the Maiden and couple with her to complete the ritual. Tamlin will kill a white stag and sacrifice it as an offering, then go to the sacred cave where a line of maidens will be waiting. No one knows who the chose Madien is until this time, and then Tamlins magic will lead him to her to complete the ritual.
He tells her that it's lucky he found her when he did, because Tamlin would have smelled her and would have chosen her to take into the cave, but it wouldn't be the Tamlin she knows, as this is "not a night for lovemaking".
Embarrassed, Feyre goes to her room and falls into a restless sleep and wakes because the music from the ritual has stopped and she knows that means it's completed. She wanders downstairs and Tamlin is waiting there, still buzzed from the magic coursing through him. He traps her against the wall and tells her how he smelled her and it drove him crazy trying to find her and he was forced to pick another, and although the Maiden chosen told him not to be gentle that he would have been with her.
Feyre taunts him, hurt that he even did choose another, and asks why she would want someone's leftovers. He goes all beast mode on her and bites her neck leaving a bruise, and although she's pissed she realizes how much she wants him and he knows it too, so now that he's proven his point he lets her go to return to her room.
In the summer, a party is thrown at the castle and Tamlin and Feyre end up finally revealing their feeling to each other and they kiss after Feyre has a bit too much Faerie liquor and loses her inhibitions. The next day at lunch everything goes bonkers and Tamlin yells for Feyre to get behind Lucien. Knowing they've sensed something or someone she can't, she quickly obeys and Lucien glamours her so that she's invisible behind him.
The reason for the disturbance turns out to be Rhysand, High Lord of the Night Court, and the male who had rescued Feyre the night of the Great Rite. Rhysand senses Feyre even though she's glamoured and threatens to tell Amarantha, his lover and the ominous "she" that is always spoken about regarding the blight. Rhysand asks her name and she tells him it's Clare Beddor, one of the girls she knew from home.
Rhysand says he won't tell Amarantha about "Clare" if Tamlin and Lucien beg him and they grovel before him. Feyre is confused as to why it matters if this woman knows about her but doesn't question Tamlins motives. He then sends her home even though she wants to stay with him and tells her that the treaty be damned, he will keep her safe and this is the only way to do it since he knows Rhysand will still tell Amarantha about her. When he puts her in a carriage home he tells her he loves her but she doesn't say it back for fear that if she does there's no way she would be able to leave like she's promised him she would.
When she gets home she finds out that her family really has been provided for due to the fact that an unknown man showed up at the shack and asked her father to make some investments for him and they got rich again from that. Feyre knows it was all Tamlins doing but she's glad they're happy even though Nesta seems very standoffish. Feyres story is that the great aunt died and left her her fortune in her will and she's brought it home to them. Nesta corners her later on and tells Feyre that she hired a mercenary after Feyre disappeared and went into the woods to try to track her with the mercenary. Feyre realizes the glamour about the whole "great aunt" didn't work on Nesta due to her iron will, and she's touched that her sister braved the woods to try to find her, and of the fact that she's kept Feyres secret to keep their other younger sister Elain and father happy. She then tells Nesta everything.
After a while, Feyre finds out that Clare's family was killed and it's rumored that she was taken by Faeries. Feyre knows that Tamlin wouldn't have allowed this and that something is wrong so she tells Nesta that she has to go to him. Nesta agrees to take their family far away so that they'll be safe in the meantime at the first sign of anything "off".
She finds her way through the wall and gets back to the castle to find no one there but Alis. Alis tells her the whole story of the blight and the curse which keeps the masks on the spring courts faces at that time after telling her that Amarantha took Tamlin due to the curse.
Amarantha was the "Deceiver" formerly mentioned by the Suriel. She went from court to court charming all the High Lords on behalf of the king of Hybern for fifty years while she gained their trust. She had a younger sister, Clythia, who fell in love with a mortal warrior named Jurian during the war before the treaty happened between mortals and Faerie's. Jurian betrayed Clythia as he only wanted information to help the humans in their fight, and killed her and chopped her up into pieces for Amarantha to find. Amarantha found him, and now wears a ring with his eye in it and his soul is trapped in there, so he's forever alive and her prisoner.
After the treaty happened, she harbored such hatred for humans that she and the king of Hybern killed their human slaves rather than free them. She was so charismatic though, that she was able to convince the high lords that her sisters death had changed her and that she and the king were willing to open trade routes with them again. The high lords never realized (nor did the king of Hybern) that the ships on the trade routes also smuggled in her army forces too.
Amarantha knew that even with her personal army, the high lords were too powerful for her to defeat so that she could kill the humans and do away with the treaty, so she convinced them to all meet with her under the guise of a ball. She slipped potions into all the high lords drinks and was able to steal their magic once they were passed out, leaving them with only their barest magic. With their magic almost fully taken she was able to use her smuggled army to take Prythian in a matter of days and became the "High Queen". She built her palace under a mountain and has ruled from there since.
She sends the creatures as a blight on the land to test the high lords of Prythian who don't kneel to her, which at this point is only Tamlin and the spring court, which she allows him to rebel because she's in love with him and doesn't want him harmed, but she did curse him for not wanting her.
She threw a masquerade ball in her honor at her palace under the mountain upon coming into power and told the spring court to come. When they arrived she offered Tamlin peace if he would join her and marry her. He refused and said he would rather marry a human than her. She used magic to sear the masks to the courts faces, and told Tamlin that only if he could make a mortal love him that truly hated Faerie's within seven times seven years, that she would restore his magic and remove the blight from Prythian.
He tried for years to break the curse by glamouring his soldiers as animals and sending them to the human lands to find someone. Part of the stipulation of the curse was that the human was to attack the Faerie soldier unprovoked and kill them so that Amarantha would know of the humans hatred of the Faerie's on the off chance that the human did end up falling in love with Tamlin.
Most humans ran or the fathers of the girls killed the Faerie soldiers, etc, and it wasn't until Feyre shot the Faerie soldier that the curse had a chance of being broken. All Feyre would have had to have done would have been to tell Tamlin she loved him that day at the carriage and it would have all ended, but instead, knowing that his time was up to break the curse in just a few days, he chose to send her away to keep her safe as she meant more to him than his own curse or court.
Hearing this and hoping she can somehow still save him, she goes to the court and declares to Amarantha that she's come back to save the man she loves. Amarantha realizes Clare wasn't Feyre after all and shows Feyre Clare's body, which has been strung up on her palace wall beaten and burned until unrecognizable. Amarantha asks Rhysand why he said Clare was the girl Tamlin loved and Rhysand tells her that all humans look alike to him, which Feyre knows isn't true as he recognized her from the night of the Rite whenever he saw her at the castle again before Tamlin sent her home.
Amarantha tells her that if she can do one of two things that she will still allow the curse to be broken. Feyre either has to go through three trials to prove her love for Tamlin or solve her riddle, which is this:
"there are those who seek me a lifetime but never we meet, and those I kiss but who trample me beneath ungrateful feet. At times I seem to favor the clever and the fair, but I bless all those who are brave enough to dare. By large, my ministrations are soft handed and sweet, but scorned I become a difficult beast to defeat. For though each of my strikes lands a powerful blow, when I kill I do it slow."
Feyre doesn't know the riddle answer of course and Amarantha throws her in the dungeon until her first trial after having her minions beat Feyre. Lucien sneaks and heals Feyre as much as he can without it being noticeable so that she's ready for her first trial.
After an unknown amount of time Feyre is brought from the dungeon for her first trial. Amarantha tells her that Rhysand has told her Feyres a hunter and that she must hunt. She throws Feyre into a big mud maze that has a big earthworm creature that has been sent to kill her while navigating the maze. Feyre manages to kill it though, by placing a trap of human bones used as a spear pit from its former dinners and then luring the worm to the trap. The worm manages to bite her once in the arm all the way to the bone before she kills it, and she ends up getting a fever and infection once put back in the dungeon since Amarantha didn't give her any medical help after the trial ended.
Rhysand comes to her cell and tells her that he will heal her so she can go on with her trials if she will vow that she will spend a week per month with him at his court. She agrees, knowing that she can't rely on Lucien to know that she needs help this time since they threw her back in the dungeon so quick after the trial. When he heals her, he leaves a swirled tattoo on her arm and a tattooed eye on her palm.
Some time later, the cell guards drag Feyre to a hallway and give her a bucket of water and tell her to scrub all the mud off the floor before they come back or they've been told they can roast her on their spit and torture her but not kill her. Feyre realizes this is a task she's not meant to beat as the water is dirtier than the floor was to begin with. Luciens mother, the head of the autumn court, appears and uses magic to clear the water, and tells Feyre they are even now, since Feyre gave her real name to Amarantha when she first came to the court because Amarantha threatened to torture Lucien if she didn't, and his mother is grateful to Feyre for it.
Another task Feyre is supposed to compleate is to pick lentils out of an ash filled fireplace and not miss a single one or again she'll be tortured by "the room's owner". It turns out to be Rhysand's room, and since he's really on her side he just uses his magic to move the lentils from the fire pit into the bucket, and then casts a glamours over the guards so that they stop torturing Feyre for amusement.
Each night, Rhysand begins drugging Feyre and forcing her to dance for him in front of the entire court including Tamlin to piss Tamlin off and show his ownership of her because of the deal she made. Feyre hates him but realizes at her second trial that he is actually helping her.
Her second trial involves her being put into a pit with a large fence in the middle and Lucien is chained on the other side. There are three levers on the wall and Amarantha tells her that if she pulls the right one they'll live, if not they are going to be impaled by the spikes that will come down from the ceiling. There's words on the wall, another riddle that Feyre is supposed to solve, but Feyre can't read very well and can't even read the riddle to try to solve it.
She starts to randomly pull a lever and there's a tingling in her hand. When she starts to pull the correct lever the tingling stops and she realizes Rhysand is telling her which one to pull. She has to trust him and pulls that one and it turns out to be correct. She has passed the second test.
The night before Feyre's third trial, Rhysand doesn't make her dance or drug her so that she'll have a clear head the next day, but still dresses her up and puts his magic paint all over her that matches the swirled tattoos on her arms. He uses the paint so that he can see if anyone touches her in a way they shouldn't be because he "doesn't like people messing with his property". When Feyre and Tamlin sneak away for some privacy in a dark room since they think no one is paying attention to them at the party, Rhysand comes in and forces Tamlin to go back to the party and then kisses Feyre. Feyre tries to push him away and Amarantha walks in. She had been looking for Feyre, and Feyre realizes Rhysand forced himself on her to make it look like the smears on the paint were from him and not Tamlin so that Tamlin and Feyre don't get in trouble.
Feyre's third trial is that she's supposed to kill three innocent fairies be stabbing them in the heart. Although she doesn't want to do it, she knows it's the only way to free he people of Prythian. The fairies hoods are removed one at a time so that she's forced to look them in the eye as she stabs them. The first is a young faerie who pleads for his life, the 2nd a girl faerie who says a prayer and then encourages Feyre that it's okay to do it, and the third turns out to be Tamlin.
Feyre remembers that when having her talk with Alis before coming here, Alis told her there was still another part of the curse that Amarantha was still preventing her from telling Feyre, so she knows it must be important and tells Feyre she has to just listen.
Feyre realizes what she meant and thinks back to all the conversations she heard between members of the spring court and remembers everyone saying Tamlin has a heart of stone, she thought it a figure of speech but realizes it's true, that he's cursed with a stone heart, she's never heard it beating when they've lain together either.
Hoping she's right, she plunges the dagger into Tamlins chest, and after piercing skin and muscle the blade stops. She was right. The fairies all around begin demanding that Amarantha break the spell as Feyre has completed her tasks successfully, and Amarantha calls them fools. She says that although she said solving the riddle would grant instant release from the spell, she only said that she WOULD release the fey if the tasks were solved, not WHEN she would release them and that Feyre had only assumed the same applied to the riddle as the tasks.
Amarantha then proceeds to kill Feyre by using her magic to start snapping each bone in Feyres body since she never promised not to kill Feyre after the end of the tests. Right before dying, Feyre realizes the answer to Amarantha's riddle is "love". She says it in her dying breath and the fairies are all immediately released of their masks and the high lords powers are given back. Tamlin immediately kills Amarantha.
Feyre lies dead on the floor, and each of the high lords comes to her and releases some kind of dust over Feyres body. Feyre awakes to find that since all the high lords did this for her it has turned her into a high Fey and brought her back from the dead and made her immortal.
The end of the book sees Feyre and Tamlin going back to the spring court castle. Although Feyre is happy to be with Tamlin and happy the curse is broken, she still feels massive guilt over killing the innocent fairies and is having a hard time trying to have a good outlook on their future. Rhysand shows up and she thanks him for his help. He tells her not to thank him yet as she probably won't be thanking him after being in his court for that week out of each month for the rest of her life.
The book ends here, but it is still always ominous in the background that there is the king of Hybern to contend with, since everyone knows that he was still allied with Amarantha and they had planned to wage war on the mortal world soon once Tamlin was locked into Amarantha's court after the curse was up.
- Sarah J. Maas began writing A Court of Thorns and Roses in the spring of 2009 and wrote the first draft in about 5 weeks. 
- "I wrote Book 1—MORTAL— back in 2009. It was one of those can’t-write-fast-enough books—a magic book. I got the idea, and then BAM—I could not stop writing it for the next few weeks. I’m pretty sure it’s still the fastest I’ve ever written a novel..."
- — Maas discussing the development of the book
|Feyre's narration||Other books|
|A Court of Thorns and Roses||Book 4 (Untitled)|
|A Court of Mist and Fury||Book 5 (Untitled)|
|A Court of Wings and Ruin||Book 6 (Untitled)|
|A Court of Frost and Starlight||Wings and Embers|
|Novella 2 (Untitled)|
|A Court of Thorns and Roses Coloring Book||A Court of Thorns and Roses|