The story beings with Rin's birth and how she was her Ma's only daughter out of a tumble of sons. Rin was her Ma's favorite and is closest to her brother, Razo. One day, being left alone with her young niece, an equally young Rin discovers that she can make her niece give her everything from her stick to her favorite shoes and her treasures. When her Ma comes home, she is angry at Rin for treating her cousin in that way and Rin, having never experienced the brunt of her Ma's anger, runs off into the forest. In the woods, she gains a refuge and calm from the trees around her, feeling as if she can actually hear and speak to them. When she returns home, she is soothed by the forest and her Ma takes her back with open arms.
One day, her brother Razo returns from the city. Rin tries to imitate Razo, be like him because she feels that Razo is "good" but she can't shake off the unpleasant feeling deep inside her heart that she herself isn't "good", that there's something wrong with her. Many years later, those powers resurface when she inadvertently convinces a crush to keep kissing her even though he didn't want to. This time, however, when she runs to the trees, she can no longer hear their voice. From then on, Rin is even more sure she can't allow herself to be herself because her true self is dangerous and wrong.
One day, Razo returns home, this time, bringing the Tiran ambassador, Dasha with him. Rin finds she can't even tell Razo the truth of what's going with her and she feels like the presence of Dasha is creating a rift between her and her brother. Rin finds herself admitting to Dasha that she wants to get away from her homestead and the forest and Dasha convinces Razo to allow her to accompany them.
In the city, Rin lives in the palace as a serving maid for Queen Ani. She finds herself imitating the other serving girls, who are snobby towards her because she is s Forest Born. She ends up taking care of Queen Ani's son, Tusken. In the palace, Rin has a growing feeling of unease that something's wrong with her and can't get any peace from the trees in the palace gardens. One day, Tusken's nursemaid returned from her visit home and wants to take back the job of nursing Tusken. Rin has a very bad feeling about this nursemaid - she can almost read the ill intentions in the nursemaid's mind. Without really understanding why, she tells the nursemaid to leave Tusken alone. Even though the nursemaid complains to the Queen about Rin, the Queen chooses to believe Rin's story because the Queen trusts Razo and his family so she dismisses the nursemaid. Rin is puzzled and confused and disgusted with what she can do - read people's thoughts and implant thoughts in people's minds. The Queen shows kindness to Rin and asks Rin to call her "Isi" which is the name all her most trusted friends use.
One day, Rin learns that there are strange things stirring from the neighboring kingdom of Kel. The Queen and King want to send Bayern's Own (the King and Queen's personal army) to investigate the disturbance. The band includes the King and Razo. A day's ride from Kel, the band is attacked - the King is burned quite badly. The queen and her companions, Enna and Dasha determine to come to their aide. Rin learns that the Queen has the power to control winds and fire and Enna, the Queen's most loyal friend, has the power to control Fire, too. Rin determines to secretly join the band as they prepare to march. Isi discovers her and asks her to care for Tusken. They will bring Tusken with them since the nursemaid with the evil intentions has gone missing and Isi feels like her son will be safer near her and Enna than by himself in a palace with a rogue nursemaid.
Once Isi, Enna and Dasha reunite with the King, Razo and Finn, they figure out that the attack on the king was by a bunch of "firespeakers". Isi determines that she, Enna and Dasha, can get to the bottom of this, mete out justice or root out the source of the attacks themselves as they have the power to control fire, too. Rin wishes she could be strong and confident like Isi, Enna and Dasha. Once the three girls leave, Rin recognizes the nursemaid's conspirator and she thinks Tusken's life might be in danger. She tells her brother Razo to watch Tusken for her and she goes off to find Isi and tell her the news. She catches up with Isi and tells her the suspicions and Isi feels that Tusken should be safe being protected by Razo. Rin stays with Isi and her band. She learns from Isi that she might have people-speak which is a dangerous power that can easily rot a person from the inside out. Rin also learns she might have Tree speak. Isi lets Rin accompany them on their mission.
The Fire girls arrive at an inn where they learn that villages have been burned due to the action of some firespakers. During a brawl at the inn, Finn, Enna's finace, makes his appearance to end the fight. Later that night, as they are sleeping, the group awakens to finding the whole town on fire. This time Rin spots a person escaping from the scene and the group follow the man. The man tells them that the Queen of Kel wants to kill them. Rin believes the man speaks true even though there is no Queen of Kel. The group puzzle out that it is indeed true that someone wants to kill the royals of Bayern. They decide that they will find a roundabout way to getting into Kel so that Isi can confront her. Isi sends Finn back to deliver the new plans to her husband. The girls decide to travel to Kel via a forest. Rin continues to be unable to access her calming tree-speaking powers because she feels that the trees are rejecting her.
One day the girls arrive at a town in Kel. In the town, they seek refuge at an Inn but some Kelish soldiers discover them. While Isi, Enna and Dasha are busy smoothing things over with the soldiers, Rin hears trouble next door and rushes to the aide. She convinces a mercenary to let the woman and her child go by using her people-speaking powers to tell a story of the child growing up. This is the first time she has used her people-speaking powers in a benevolent way to help another. They discover these soldiers are under order from the secret Kelish Queen and though the situation is tricky, Isi thinks this mission is suited to the fire powers they have so they resolve to track down this Queen in her lair in Castle Daire.
When the group reach castle Daire, they find the Queen and her soldiers are expecting them. They have Razo and Tusken already locked in a cage and surrounded by soldiers. The Queen reveals herself to be Selia, Isi's ex-lady's servant, who used her people-speaking skills to usurped Isi's throne in the past. Selia proceeds to use her people-speak to put everyone into a thrall. Rin can resist the people-speaking powers, however, and she manages to free Tusken and Razo. All of them retreat into the forest and climb up a tree to hide from searchers. Razo tells Rin to take Tusken home while he goes back to the castle. But Razo is injured with a broken rib so Rin decides she'll go and tell Isi, Enna and Dasha that Tusken is safe so that the fire girls can carry out their plan without the threat of Selia killing Razo and Tusken. She also admits to Razo that she has people-speaking and that she's afraid she might become evil and corrupt like Selia one day. Razo convinces her she will never be like Selia.
Rin almost makes it into the castle undetected but is caught and brought to Selia. Selia touches on all of Rin's insecurities, like how she's always overlooked and isn't appreciated properly and how her family doesn't even know who she is because they don't know her secret - that she can people-speak. Selia reveals that she wants to take over Bayern, too and she is using Tusken as leverage to get Isi to sign a document ceding Bayern to her powers. She also convinces Rin she has found Tusken and Razo again and has killed Razo. Rin had better help Isi comply or they are all dead. Rin is dumped with Isi, Enna and Dasha. Isi learns what Selia plans and demands to talk to Selia. Unfortunately, Selia's firespeakers accidentally take all the heat from Isi, effectively killing her. Isi's body is dumped back with Enna, Dasha and Rin who believe Isi is dead. But Rin, using her ability to see the life threads in trees, gently coaxes Isi back into breathing while Enna puts the body's fire back in. Isi eventually wakes up and relates what happened.
While the guards are distracted by Isi's suddenly moving, Rin sneaks out and searches for Tusken. She finds Tusken but is caught by Selia. Rin tries to convince Selia to let Tusken because she understands how people-speaking can destroy a person but Selia is too long gone and mad from her powers. Selia is very close to getting Isi to sign the document handing over her power. But, Isi feeds into Selia' ego, asking her how could she have possibly escape the first time. Selia reveals that she has immense powers to cause trouble for the kingdom, even starting a war with another neighboring kingdom, Tira. Rin beings to think that maybe she should release the full force of her people-speaking. She comes to realize the truth and break free from Selia's powers to realize that Selia is lying, she doesn't have Tusken or Razo. That is all Isi needs before she unleashes her powers on Selia. Eventually, the kill the imposter Queen of Kel, Selia and Tusken is returned and Razo is reunited.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like that Shannon Hale addressed the power of people-speaking and how it has good and bad sides to it and that Rin should not be so harsh on herself for having the powers.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was when Rin finally overcomes Selia's mind-control powers enough to see the truth - that Selia does not actually have Tusken nor did she actually kill Razo.
Opinion about the main character:
I like that at the beginning of the story, she is quiet and uncertain about who she is, prone to imitating others, however by the end of the story, she has confidence in who she is and she believes she is capable of good even though she has the dangerous power of people-speaking.