Alexandre must, with the help of the newly resurrected Perrotte, find a way out of the local deserted castle into which Saint Melor has transported him. 13-year-old Alexandre - aka Sand - has fought for a year with his father over whether to go to university (as his father wishes for him to do) or become a blacksmith, even though his father refuses to take him on as an apprentice. After an argument one night, Sand rushes out to his grandfather's house and, on the way, stops to pray to Saint Melor. He wakes up in a local abandoned castle where his father used to work as a cobbler's apprentice before becoming a blacksmith's apprentice. Villagers say a local earthquake shook it to ruins and drove the inhabitants away.
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Sand quickly suspects there is more to it. The damage done is not consistent with that done by an earthquake. Everything is dry, everything is broken, and everything is dead except the thorns surrounding the castle keeping him in and the people of his county out. They even seem to be alive; one pokes him (yes, as if it had a will and ability to move independently) and nearly poisons him to death. Sand's idea to use sheets to bring up water from the well (remember all the broken cups and pans and buckets) to drink and cook, and his ability to remember how his stepmother cured poison in the past allow him to survive. With the state of the castle, he is limited to 25-year-old vegetables and meats that have dried and not wilted, however. Even his attempt at a garden fails.
Sand begins to repair things which turn out much better than they should, given his limited blacksmithing skills. Then a stuffed hawk he found comes alive. Then a girl he found and straightened out in the crypt comes to life, as well. Sand is creeped out; she finds it rather odd to be alive again, too. She - Perrotte - is the heir to the previous countess. After some awkward conversations, they begin to respect each other and treat each other as equals. She shows him her observatory (she loves studying the natural sciences), they take care of each other and keep each other company, and Sand teaches her to help him mend things. He also rescues her when she insists at her own attempt at the thorns and ends up with plenty beneath her skin and in need of pulling.
They eventually notice that as they mend things, the level of the thorns around the walls gradually goes down. They realize they can escape if they keep mending. Perrotte also remembers more about her past. Sand's father was her friend - and also carried her death to her in the form of poison gloves and boots from her stepmother Jannet. She wants revenge, and is therefore receptive when a faithful knight discovers her and wants to plot to overthrow the now-dowager-countess. (Perrotte's father is dead and her little sister, while now in her 20's has not the confidence to take over.) When Sand discovers this, he tells her no.
A visitation from St. Melor and St. Trifine Helps them understand Sand's mending gift (which they gave him after transporting him) and the reason for the thorns. The thorns represent the broken relationships of all the people who have been associated with the castle; they are not of one person's doing, but that of many. Both of them, but especially Perrotte's, must learn to forgive in order to free herself (both literally and metaphorically) to continue to live.
Meanwhile, the countess dowager (Jannet) has discovered their knight's plans and taken him prisoner. Word of Sand's whereabouts has spread to his father and (kind, loving) stepmother, as well. They don't believe the nature of the thorns, but with their new knowledge, Sand and Perrotte's work out a plan. They request a mediator (who turns out to be the French queen), and a mediation day is set one week into the future.
Sand sets himself to making one giant task of mending - with Perrotte's help. They meld a chain to put around one of the sundered upper towers and use it to pull the tower together. This huge repair brings down the thorns. On mediation day, they negotiate a place for Perrotte to live until she comes of age and takes over her role as countess. There, she will have tutors for her and any other girl who wishes to study, and a blacksmith for Sand. Perrotte's relationship with her "younger" sister (who is now twice her age since Perrotte was dead for 25 years) also seems promising. And Sand's father comes to terms with Sand's desire to be a blacksmith. Jannet, on the other hand, has some reflection to do. When she takes her servants into the castle to recover some of the county's riches, the thorns climb right back up the walls, trapping her until she figures out how to bring them back down from within.
Best part of story, including ending:
The castle and the thorns surrounding it are an extended metaphor for the difficulties in our lives that cause relationships between people to be damaged and broken. Sand's blacksmithing abilities are a metaphor for his own abilities (and the abilities of those around him) to create and repair relationships.
Best scene in story:
It seems particularly fitting when Jannet quite unwittingly traps herself in the castle simply by entering. Not even Sand and Perrotte guessed that the thorns would grow back and trap her.
Opinion about the main character:
Sand is a kind character who nonetheless stands up for himself. He refuses to call Perrotte "my lady," for example. They are and will remain equals in the castle. At the same time, he does a lot to care for her and comfort her.