To preserve the magical beings and the fairy lands that her and sisters love, Jena fights to keep the goodwill between the fairy folk and the human folk before they destroy each other, a hefty task that involves meeting with dangerous fairy folk, dealing with a bloodthirsty and vengeful cousin and saving another cousin from a long held enchantment. In her family, Jena is the most sensible and responsible among her eleven other sisters as she is indispensable in helping her father run the household and his business from their home in Castle Piscul Dracului. But her father is ailing and must travel to the milder weather of the Black Sea coast to get better. Everyone hopes for the best but Jena feels like this might be the last time she sees her father. Her and her older sister Tati never really thought about what would happen should their father pass away as he left no sons to inherit the property. Piscul Dracului may end up being inherited by their closest male cousin, Cezar.
Jena and her eleven sisters have a secret. When they were children they discovered that on the night of the full moon, they can open a doorway in their bedroom that leads to the fairylands where they can dance all night among folk from the Other Kingdom. Jena and her sisters are the only ones who know of this magical place – except for Jena's pet frog, Gogu, who can communicate with Jena through thoughts. To get to the Other Kingdom, the girls must cross a lake called Taul Ielelor, the Deadwash. This was also the place where one of their cousins, Costi, had drowned and everyone thought it was the doings of vengeful fairy folk but despite this, the sisters aren't afraid to cross the waters. Over the years, they had befriended the fairy folk and were always welcomed to their revelries. Jena and her sisters learn that the fairy folk are ruled by an ancient and mysterious being called Draguta, the witch of the wood. Draguta never appears at the festivities and stays in her domain somewhere deep in the Wildwoods.
One night, Jena and her sisters visit the Other Kingdom and find that a group of strange creatures called the Night People are present. Jena has heard the Night People being described as vampiric in nature and she is afraid for her sisters' safety. The fairy folk assure her that they are safe, however. Tati, the eldest sister, is given special treatment by the forest queen and is introduced formally to the Night People, an act which makes Jena feel uneasy. One member of the Night People, a young man, seems particularly fixated on Tati. Later that night, when the girls return to bed, Tati reveals to Jena that she is intrigued by that particular young man.
The next day, Jena's father prepares to leave. Their Uncle Nicolae and cousin Cezar offer to help the girls run the household and business, something which aggravates Jena as she thinks she is perfectly capable of handling the affairs herself. Jena doesn't like Cezar very much, though for family's sake she tries to like him. Cezar thinks that the girls should be focusing on more womanly arts and not bother about being overly educated, harbor odd notions or keep pets, like frogs. Cezar doesn't like the idea of fairy folk in the Wildwoods – he is suspicious and hostile towards them, thinking they are evil and try to enchant and kill humans that are unlucky enough to wander the woods. The topic of Costi's death is particularly touchy. Cezar still lives with the guilt of not being able to save his brother ten years ago when they were children playing by the shores of Taul Ielelor. Cezar disapproves of how Jena and her sisters believe the fairy folk are friends as he treats them like enemies. He has plans to cut down the entire Wildwood forest to push the creatures away.
On a trip to the Deadwash with her pet frog, Gogu, Jena recalls what happened that day when Costi drowned. She remembers that she, Costi and Cezar were playing a game called King of the Lake. To play the game they each had to dress up appropriately like monarchs. Costi had brought his heirloom ring, Cezar a beautiful fur-trimmed cloak and Jena a makeshift crown made from her favorite blanket. While they are playing a game of tag involving the boys chasing Jena in the forest, Jena gets scared as the forest and lake suddenly feel frightening. To make her stop crying, Costi says that Jena can have first pick of whether she wants to be King of the Lake, King of the Land or King of something else. Jena decides to be Queen of the fairies. Before they can continue their game, they are interrupted by an old lady. The old lady says that if they want to truly play the game right, they must all give up something precious to them to claim their new titles. Costi gives up his heirloom ring and Jena her crown but Cezar doesn't seem to have given anything up. The old woman accepts the gifts and disappears into the woods. Later on when Costi rushes out to save Jena who is trapped on a raft on the lake, he is pulled down into the lake by hands reaching up from the water. Cezar ends up being the one to rescue Jena, but they are traumatized and believe that Draguta had drowned him. Because of this incident in their past, Jena believes she and Cezar can comfort each other, but the reality is that Cezar has instead become more bloodthirsty and vengeful against the fairy folk.
One night, Jena and her sisters travel to the Other Kingdom and the Night People are there again. This time, the young man named Sorrow dances with Tati, making Jena nervous as she believes the Night People are dangerous. Tati seems to be falling in love with Sorrow and Jena wishes she could convince Tati that Sorrow is bad news. Later on, Jena finds out that Tati has been secretly meeting with Sorrow and she is angry that Tati would risk her safety.
One day, they hear the bad news that their Uncle Nicolae is dead from a hunting accident. Cezar must now assume the responsibilities of his own household. He becomes even more domineering and when he finds out that Jena and her sisters are running low on funds he tries to interfere. This only enrages Jena even more as she is stubbornly set against asking Cezar for help since she believes this will only make Cezar think he is right that woman aren't capable enough to run business affairs.
On one of their trips to the Other Kingdom, Jena relates to the fairy folk that their world may soon be threatened. She tells them that Cezar may commission men to cut down and burn the forest that is their home. The fairy folk believe that Jena can protect them but Jena tells them that if her father dies, Piscul Dracului and the surrounding Wildwoods will be inherited by Cezar. The fairy folk refuse to interfere and tell Jena that they entrust the responsibility of the Wildwoods to her and her ability to convince Cezar not to do this foul deed. Jena is frustrated at the fairy folk's lack of concern. At the dance that night, she also meets a member of the Night People who calls himself Tadeusz. Jena is uncomfortable around Tadeusz as she suspects he has his own agenda for offering to help her. Tadeusz tells Jena he knows of other ways to enter the Other Kingdom, paths that aren't restricted to the full moon. He tells Jena that she can see a glimpse of the future if she looks into Draguta's mirror during the Dark of the Moon. There is a brief moment of panic when the sisters prepare to leave as Jena can't find her frog, Gogu and Tati doesn't want to leave Sorrow behind. They must leave the Other Kingdom before Sunrise or else they will be trapped there. Eventually, Tati is brought to her senses and Gogu is found so the sisters can leave safely.
The next day, they receive bad news that their father is in even worst straights. Naturally, Cezar makes his appearance and tries to bully Jena and her sisters into letting him handle their affairs. Jena can't take it anymore and has an argument with Cezar in which she advises him to not visit them for a while. Just as the argument is getting heated, there is a commotion. A young girl has been found dead with two puncture marks on her neck – the work of Night People. Jena suspects it might be Tadeusz' doing. She doesn't know what to do.
The next few days the entire household is occupied with planning a party. At the party, the girls' Aunt will arrange for eligible men to attend. It is her hope that Tati and Jena will find a match. The party is slated to occur on the next full moon, which makes Tati upset since she wants to visit Sorrow in the Other Kingdom. Jena sees that Tati has become attached to Sorrow. Tati insists that the Night People aren't vampires and they don't have fangs so they could not be responsible for the young girl's killing. Tati begins to lose her appetite and become more quiet and frail looking. One day, Cezar returns to announce that they caught a dwarf. Jena is horrified to learn that they tortured the creature for information and it perished from the ordeal. A few nights after, she finds her sister Tati had run off into the Wildwoods in search of Sorrow. She was tricked into asking Tadeusz for help. Jena chases after Tati. The sisters undergo a horrifying ordeal with sinister members of the Night People in which they are given a glimpse into Draguta's mirror. In her vision, Jena sees a young man. She likes the look of the young man however suddenly the young man changes into a monster that starts to attack her sisters. Jena is horrified by the vision. Tati and Jena escape and return home but not before they arouse the suspicions of Cezar. Cezar has been questioning everyone in Piscul Dracului as he suspects something odd is going on in the castle that has something to do with the Fairy Folk.
On the night of the dance, Sorrow makes another appearance to dance with Tati and he almost gets caught by Cezar if it weren't for Jena warning them just in time. Cezar also proposes to Jena and Jena rejects him. Over the next few days, Cezar's investigations into the mysterious of Castle Piscul Dracului intensify. Cezar suspects there are entries into the Other Kingdom from their castle. Jena is scared he might actually find one. Cezar tells Jena that he has heard rumors of them going off somewhere on the night of the Full Moon and this time he will be watching them very closely. He suspects that Tati's illness is to do with the Night People taking advantage of her and transforming her into one of them. Cesar says that the next time there is a full moon, he will commission a spy to watch the girls to make sure nothing supernatural happens.
In her desperation to stop Cezar from finding out their secret, Jena decides to search for Draguta. She and Gogu walk deep into the woods by the edge of the Deadwash in the dark of the night and wait for Draguta to make her appearance. When Draguta appears, she demands a payment for her help. Jena refuses to give up Gogu, and Draguta grudgingly accepts the payment of food, instead. Draguta gives Jena a sleeping potion that she can use to keep Cezar's spy from finding out about their secret, then disappears. Jena is so happy that she doesn't have to give up Gogu she kisses the frog. Suddenly, there is a blast of light and in place of the frog is a young man. The young man doesn't speak a word and Jena, frightened, runs away. Jena thinks this young man is evil as she saw him in Draguta's mirror.
On the night of the full moon, the girls enter the Other Kingdom for what might be the last time. Jena sees the young man, waiting on the shores of the Deadwash. Again the man is silent, and at one point he and Jena dance, but Jena is nervous around him. Later on that night, Tati makes a plea with the queen of the forest to let her and Sorrow be together. The queen agrees but only if Sorrow first fulfills a quest she has set out for him. Jena also tells the queen that they may never return to the Other Kingdom which saddens the Fairy Folk. Finally, the young man asks the queen to give him back his voice. The moment he gets his voice back he tells Jena that he is actually Costi. Jena refuses to believe him because she's been tricked enough times before by Fairy Folk. Costi, hurt that Jena can't trust him, disappears back into the woods. After a few moments of doubt, Jena chases after him however he is already gone. Instead, she meets with Draguta and all the mysteries are revealed. Draguta tells Jena that she made Jena Queen of the Fairies by allowing her the power to open up a portal into the Other Kingdom. Draguta also helps Jena realize that she made Costi King of the Lake by transforming him into a frog – it was also a bit of a punishment because Costi was such an arrogant child. Finally, Cezar became King of the Land when he sacrificed his most precious item – his own brother. Now that the gifts have been returned, Costi can become human again, but Cezar will no longer be King of the Land and Jena will no longer be Queen of the fairies.
Eventually, the truth of the story is revealed to all the rest of the people living in Piscul Dracului and the surrounding lands. Cezar and Costi confront each other. Cezar doesn't want to believe Costi can possibly be alive even though Costi has the heirloom ring that proves his heritage. Cezar is unwilling to cede his power to his elder brother - it is suggested by the narrative that Cezar has become cold and power-hungry. Costi reveals that everyone at home already believes that he is who he claims to be and Cezar sullenly slinks off into the woods.
Over the next few days, Tati's health deteriorates further. One night, Jena and Costi finally meet again and this time Jena admits that there's no one else in the world for her but Costi. She had to win Costi's trust back as she had rejected him so many times. The two decide to get married. That same night is the night of the full moon, and Sorrow, who had fulfilled his quest comes to take Tati away. This will likely be the last time the sisters see Tati as she will join the Night People permanently. Everyone is happy, however, because Tati is happy to be reunited with her beloved. A few days later, their Father returns home, his health completely regained.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like how Juliet Marillier cleverly sets up the story around a game that Jena, Costi and Cezar played when they were little that attracted the attention of a powerful being.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene is when Jena tries to win back Costi at the end of the book. Jena had rejected Costi so many times, mostly because she was unable to trust that he was who he actually was, being tricked so many times by the fairy folk. In the end, the tables are turned as she has to win Costi's love back. As appropriate to the folklore style of the story, Jena tempts Costi with three gifts. The first is a pancake since when Costi was a frog, he always loved eating pancakes. The second is a beetle carapace, which is an appropriate gift for a frog. And the third is a kiss. It is funny when the two lovers actually meet because there is a brief moment of doubt about whether or not they should kiss - will Costi turn back into a frog? But of course no such thing happens.
Opinion about the main character:
I like that Jena was able to fend off her overbearing cousin, Cezar. I like that she had the fortitude and stubbornness to take care that Cezar doesn't hurt her family and confront scary ancient beings like the witch Draguta.