Chosen from birth to usher in a new era, Poppy’s life has never been her own. The life of the Maiden is solitary. Never to be touched. Never to be looked upon. Never to be spoken to. Never to experience pleasure. Waiting for the day of her Ascension, she would rather be with the guards, fighting back the evil that took her family, than preparing to be found worthy by the gods. But the choice has never been hers.
The entire kingdom’s future rests on Poppy’s shoulders, something she’s not even quite sure she wants for herself. Because a Maiden has a heart. And a soul. And longing. And when Hawke, a golden-eyed guard honor bound to ensure her Ascension, enters her life, destiny and duty become tangled with desire and need. He incites her anger, makes her question everything she believes in, and tempts her with the forbidden.
Forsaken by the gods and feared by mortals, a fallen kingdom is rising once more, determined to take back what they believe is theirs through violence and vengeance. And as the shadow of those cursed draws closer, the line between what is forbidden and what is right becomes blurred. Poppy is not only on the verge of losing her heart and being found unworthy by the gods, but also her life when every blood-soaked thread that holds her world together begins to unravel.
Detailed Plot Summary:
Donning a white mask and a "borrowed" cloak from the servant Britta, Penellaphe "Poppy" Balfour plays cards with a few members of the Royal Guard at the Red Pearl, a brothel. One of the guards, Airrick, discusses that Finley's mangled body had been discovered. Airrick predicts that there will be a Craven attack soon. After losing a few hands in a row, Poppy rises from the table and wanders around the red pearl. A waitress stops Poppy from entering a room where a man and woman are dancing and enjoying intimacy. The waitress recognizes Poppy as the Chosen, the Maiden. Although Poppy fears that the waitress will report this incident to the Duke and Duchess, the woman indicates to Poppy that she will keep Poppy's secret because “everyone should be able to live a little, even for a few hours.” A few moments later, Vikter, one of Poppy’s personal guards, enters the Red Pearl. The waitress tells Poppy to go upstairs and that Poppy will find sanctuary behind the sixth door on the left.
Left with little choice, Poppy goes upstairs and enters the sixth room. After shutting the door, Poppy discovers that the room is already occupied by Hawke Flynn, the Royal Guard who just transferred from Carsodonia a few months prior. Mistaking Poppy for Britta, Hawke kisses her. Hawke quickly realizes that the woman wearing the cloak is not Britta. As Poppy and Hawke banter, Poppy internally debates whether she should stay in the room as she risks the discovery of her true identity.
After deciding to stay, Poppy repeatedly denies Hawke's request that she take off the mask. However, Poppy does allow Hawke to untie her cloak revealing the revealing, white night gown she wore underneath. As Hawke explores Poppy's body, he notices a dagger sheathed to her thigh. Moving faster than Poppy can comprehend, Hawke pulls out the bloodstone dagger with a carved wolven bone handle. Poppy quickly informs Hawke that she knows how to properly wield the dagger and defend herself. After stabbing the bed with the dagger, Hawke resumes exploring Poppy's body. The pair are interrupted by a knock at the door. Kieran informs Hawke through the closed door that the envoy has arrived. As Hawke turns to leave, he promises Poppy that he will return and asks Poppy to stay. Despite promising that she will stay, Poppy quickly leaves after Hawke.
The next morning, Poppy's companion and Lady in Wait, Tawny, interrogates Poppy about where she was the night prior. Although Poppy and Tawny had gotten into mischief together before, Poppy is hesitant to trust Tawny fearing that she will go report Poppy's activities to the Duke and Duchess. After more questioning, Poppy confesses that she had gone to the Red Pearl the night before, but leaves out any mention of Hawke. Tawny and Poppy proceed to discuss their upcoming ascensions with Tawny excited and Poppy fearing the unknown.
Vikter informs Poppy that there is a situation they must take care of in town. Vikter and Poppy sneak out of the castle and go to one of the houses in town where a white handkerchief has been placed on the knob of the door. Removing the handkerchief, Vikter knocks on the door. Agnes answers and overwhelms Poppy's senses with her severe grief. Poppy touches the woman and takes away her pain. Agnes gasps and mentions that the rumors are true. That Poppy, although hooded, is a child of the gods and has been blessed with the gift. While Agnes speaks with Vikter, Poppy enters the bedroom where Agnes's husband, Marlowe, is suffering from the Curse. Marlowe had been bitten by a Craven and was slowly turning into one. Poppy quickly takes away his physical pain and swiftly kills him with a dagger to the back of his neck giving him dignity in death.
After returning back to the castle, Poppy’s other personal Guard, Rylan escorts Poppy from her bedchamber to the garden for her nightly walk through the garden, one of the few activities Poppy is allowed to partake. However, the pair are stopped by Lord Mazeen, an Ascended. He pulls Poppy into the alcove and taunts Poppy about her future "lessons" with Duke Teerman. Suddenly, Poppy and Lord Mazeen hear screams and Poppy run out of the alcove to discover the body of Lady Malessa partially undressed, drained of blood, her neck snapped, and with two deep puncture wounds in the neck. Rylan quickly ushers Poppy back to her room where Vikter and Poppy discuss the murder. The Duke and Duchess's official statement is that the death was caused by a Descenter, but Poppy and Vikter agree that they believed it to be the work of an Atlantian. Poppy sneaks back to the location where Malessa's body was discovered and notices a white petal and the odor of Jasmine.
The next night, Rylan escorts Poppy to the garden. While Poppy admires her favorite night blooming roses, Rylan is fatally shot with an arrow. The assassin comes up behind Poppy and tries to take her through the collapsed section of the garden wall. Poppy, having been trained how to fight by Vikter, grabs her dagger and stabs the assassin twice. The assassin plans to kill Poppy and states that he does not care what "he" (who Poppy assumed to be the Dark One) plans for Poppy. However, the assassin scurries off after hearing a whistle. Having heard the commotion, Royal Guards come out of the castle and discover Poppy, who has hidden the dagger beneath her gown, and Rylan.
Against Vikter's wishes, Poppy attends Rylan's funeral. As the closest guard to Rylan, Vikter goes to light the funeral pyre, but hesitates not wanting to leave Poppy unprotected even though the pair were surrounded by a dozen Royal Guards. One guard steps forward indicating that he has Poppy. The guard turns out to be Hawke, who notices Poppy's mouth that had been injured by the assassin, and Hawke vows that Poppy will never be hurt again.
Poppy, Tawny and Vikter attend the weekly City Council where Mr. Tulis and Mrs. Tulis approach the Duke and Duchess with a request regarding their third-born son Tobias. The pair request that they be able to keep their son instead of giving him over during the Rite. The Duke and Duchess refuse the Tulises's request and remind the Tulises that it was an honor to surrender their child to serve the gods. As the Tulises left, Poppy's gaze snags on a blonde man. Poppy senses something other than pain from the man, which Poppy does not understand.
Later, Duke Teerman summons Poppy to his office announcing that Hawke is her new personal guard. Although Hawke is newer and younger than many other Royal Guards, Commander Jansen recommends Hawke. The Duke instructs Poppy to take off her veil revealing the scars across the left side of her face. The Duke calls one side of her face a masterpiece and the other a nightmare. In response, Hawke announces that both sides of her face are equally as beautiful. Poppy smirks at the Duke instantly angering him.
Poppy is relieved and disappointed that Hawke did not seem to recognize her as the woman from the Red Pearl. Poppy keeps quiet around Hawke as she does not want him to recognize her voice. Noticing Poppy’s lack of enthusiasm for the new, attractive Guard, Tawny asks Poppy what is going on. Poppy confesses that she and Hawke shared a kiss at the Red Pearl.
As Poppy and Tawny have tea in the atrium, two Ladies in Wait Loren and Dafina join them. Loren, Dafina and Tawny gossip about Hawke and the Dark One while Poppy sits quietly, as is required of her. After Loren expresses excitement about a possible attack by the Dark One, Poppy chastises Loren for wanting dead men, women, and children to brighten up Loren's boring day. Loren and Dafina quickly exit having never heard the Maiden speak. As Loren leaves, Poppy reaches out with her gift and again senses something other than pain, something that Poppy interprets to be excitement.
The Duke summons Poppy to his office causing Tawny and Poppy to stiffen. While escorting Poppy to the Duke's office, Hawke wonders why Poppy and her maid seem so uncomfortable at the Duke's summons. Poppy breaks her silence around Hawke to defend Tawny, saying that Tawny was not a maid. Poppy enters the Duke's office leaving Hawke outside the doors to find the Duke and Lord Mazeen waiting for her.
As punishment for smirking at the Duke and not leaving the atrium when the two ladies in wait had entered, Poppy is lashed seven times with a cane. The Duke forces Poppy to strip her top half and Lord Mazeen holds her hands down on the Duke's desk preventing Poppy from covering her exposed chest. After the beating, Poppy leaves the Duke's office to find Vikter, not Hawke, waiting for her. Vikter explains that when Hawke noticed Tawny's and Poppy's distressed reaction to the Duke's summons, he immediately sent for Vikter to find out the reason. Vikter, aware of the Duke’s “lessons,” dismissed Hawke prior to Poppy exiting the Duke's office and take Poppy back to her bed chamber. Realizing how attentive Hawke is, she stays in her bedchamber for two days not wanting to explain to Hawke why she can barely walk.
While staring out her window, Poppy notices the torches on the Rise flickering along with a mist creeping in. She knows that the Craven are about to attack. Against Tawny's wishes, Poppy takes out a bow from her trunk and sneaks out through the servant's access in her bedchamber. With only a few minutes before the castle would go on lockdown, Poppy leaves wearing only a nightgown, cloak and bedroom slippers.
Poppy goes up on the Rise and mans a battlement. Demonstrating immense skill, Poppy empties several quivers and kills many Craven. As she reaches for another quiver, she hears Hawke say she "must be the goddess Bele or Lailah given mortal form." As Hawke questions why she was up on the battlement, Poppy attempts to evade him with the cloak still covering her face. Although she is able to knock him onto the ground, he quickly catches up with her. She throws a dagger directly at his face, which he catches by the handle moving inhumanely fast. As he pulls her close to him, she pushes the blade of her bloodstone dagger into his neck drawing blood. Recognizing the dagger, Hawke calls her Princess. After an exchange of words and teases, Hawke calls her Penellaphe, revealing that he knew who she was the entire time. He informs her that he knew the moment she had removed her veil. After bantering, Hawke releases her to return to her bedchamber.
As Poppy tells Tawny about the Craven attack, Hawke knocks at the door. Tawny pretends that Poppy is sleeping, but Hawke barges in. Poppy and Hawke exchange angry words with Tawny siding with Hawke that Poppy is a danger to herself. Hawke questions Poppy about what the Duke did to her, but Poppy refuses to share. Poppy explains why she has been on the Rise and how she refuses to ever be helpless again like the night the Craven attacked her and her family. Before leaving Poppy's bedchamber, Hawke requests that the next time Poppy went out, she wear better shoes and thicker clothing. Poppy is amazed that Hawke does not tell her to hide. Hawke reports to Vikter that he discovered Poppy on the Rise.
The next day, Vikter and Poppy work on her hand to hand combat as she was unsuccessful in evading Hawke up on the Rise. Vikter reminds Poppy that while she may look at Hawke, she cannot touch him. Vikter, Hawke, Poppy and Tawny go to a public meeting where the Duke and Duchess are giving a speech about the Craven attack. Poppy notices the same blonde man from the City Council meeting. She notices that he and some other members of the crowd are giving off a different emotion. Unsure if she is imagining it, she alerts Vikter that there is something strange about the man. The Duke and Duchess announce to the people that they had spoken with the Gods and that the Gods had allowed the Craven to reach the Rise because the Gods were angry about the rising amount of Descenters. Soon after, the blonde man shouts out demanding to know what happened to the 3rd and 4th children that were handed over during the Rite and why no one has ever seen them. He proceeds to throw a Craven hand at the Duke and Duchess. The man, a Descenter, is arrested.
Poppy seeks Duchess Teerman and explains how she believes that he powers were changing. The Duchess asks Poppy if she can sense what the Duchess is feeling and is relieved when Poppy indicates that she could not. Poppy has never been able to sense anything regarding the Ascended. The Duchess informs Poppy that the same thing happened with the first Maiden, her skills began to evolve and then her actions led her to the Dark One who then killed her.
The next day, Priestess Analia, makes Poppy read a history book aloud. The Priestess corrects Poppy’s pronunciation of Skotos Mountains. Hawke interrupts indicating that he's from an area near Pompay near the Skotos Mountains and that Poppy's pronunciation is correct, angering the Priestess. As Poppy continues reading about the Ascension; she shudders leading the Priestess to ask why. Poppy indicates that the Ascension process sounds very similar to what the Atlantians did, enraging the Priestess. As the Priestess pulls her hand back to slap Poppy, Hawke grabs the Priestess’s arm demanding the Priestess release Poppy. The Priestess leaves angrily. As Poppy and Hawke walk back to her bedchamber, they discuss their brothers and Poppy takes away Hawke’s emotional pain.
Poppy sneaks out of her bedchamber to go to the Atheneum searching for the diary of Ms. Willa Colyns. The diary recounts Ms. Colyn’s sexual escapades. Distracted by reading, Poppy loses track of time and hears the voices of the Duke and a guard outside the door. Poppy immediately climbs out on the window ledge. Poppy’s overhears a guard and the Duke discussing the arrested Descenter. After the guard and Duke leave, Poppy hears someone else enter the room. Hawke then asks if she is still out on the edge. Refusing his help, Poppy climbs back into the room. Exasperated, he calls Poppy by her nickname for the first time. He demands to know how she left her bedchamber and she reluctantly tells him about the servants' access. He takes the diary from Poppy is surprised by the diary's topic.
Later that evening, Tawny and Poppy prepare to attend the Rite. This is the first Rite that Poppy is allowed to attend. It is also the first time Poppy is allowed to wear a garment that is not white. Poppy wears a gown with long, flowing, crimson sleeves with the gown skimming her curves and a red domino mask. Vikter escorts Poppy and Tawny to the Rite with Hawke nowhere to be seen.
The Duchess and Lord Mazeen both take turns talking to Poppy with the Duke nowhere to be seen. Agnes approaches Poppy and asks Poppy if she could speak to her alone. Vikter denies this request. The three of them step outside, and Agnes thanks Poppy for what she did with Marlowe and that Poppy should not be here tonight. Poppy and Vikter both sense that Agnes wanted to say more, but Agnes leaves. After Hawke arrives, Vikter leaves to go find Commander Jansen to inform him about Agnes's words. Tawny informs Poppy that the families had just finished handing over their children during the Rite. Tawny did not see the Tulis family and Poppy suspects that they attempted to leave the kingdom to keep from having to give up their son.
Poppy notices that Tawny is itching to join the crowd but is staying by Poppy’s side because Poppy is not allowed to mingle. Poppy tells Tawny to go have fun and that Poppy planned to retire to her bedchamber. As Hawke escorts Poppy to her room, he convinces her to go the garden instead. As the two talk about how the garden reminds Poppy of Rylan, Hawke shares about the caverns that he and his brother used to go to. Poppy again takes away his emotional pain.
Hawke leads Poppy to the benches under the willow tree where there were benches. Poppy asks Hawke to kiss her, which he obliges and more. Hawke stops saying that they should return or else Poppy will no longer be a maiden. As they leave the willow tree, they run into Vikter who has been searching for the pair. Vikter immediately recognizes that Hawke and Poppy have been kissing leading Vikter and Hawke to argue. After Hawke leaves, Poppy argues with Vikter shouting that she did not want to ascend and hopes that she will be found unworthy.
As Poppy and Vikter return to her room, they hear a loud, cracking sound followed by screaming from the Great Hall. Poppy rushes to the Great Hall as Tawny is still in there. Poppy sees one of the wooden rods behind the dais had broken revealing the body of the Duke stabbed through the heart with the cane that he used to lash Poppy. Written in blood above the Duke’s body is the mark of the Dark One, From Blood and Ash… We Will Rise.
Suddenly, Descenters start blowing up the windows in the Great Hall. Tawny, Poppy and Vikter quickly rush out; however, those who had left earlier were suddenly rushing back into the Great Hall due to Descenters killing people outside. Vikter and the Royal Guards form a protective circle around Poppy and Tawny to protect them from the stampede. They are pulled apart and lose one another in the crowd.
Poppy, Tawny, Duchess Teerman, Lord Mazeen, Vikter and a couple guards escape the Great Hall and the Duchess insists that they hide in a room with only one exit/entrance. The Descenters make it into the room prepared to kill everyone. Poppy pulls out her dagger and fights alongside Vikter. Poppy and Vikter take down all the Descenters, and the Duchess is scandalized that Poppy knows how to wield a dagger. As Vikter, Tawny, and Poppy prepare to leave the room, one of the Descenters rise and throws a sword at Vikter mortally wounding him. As Vikter dies, he apologizes to Poppy for failing her and not protecting her. Hawke enters as Vikter passes on.
Lord Mazeen taunts Poppy about Vikter’s death. In a fit of rage, Poppy slices off Lord Mazeen’s hands and head and proceeds to butcher him. Hawke comes up behind her and pinches a nerve causing Poppy to black out. She stays in her bedchamber for a week and finally leaves when the Duchess summons her. The Duchess informs her that there is no punishment for Poppy's execution of Lord Mazeen. Poppy correctly deduces that the Duchess was always aware of the Duke and Lord Mazeen’s lessons. The Duchess informs Poppy that Queen Ileana has ordered Poppy to return to the Capital. Although Poppy wants to take Tawny, Hawke says no and Tawny agrees.
Hawke introduces Poppy to Kieran, a royal guard who travelled with Hawke from the Capital to Masadonia. Hawke, Kieran, Phillips, Airrick, Noah, and Luddie are tasked with escorting Poppy to the Capital. Unable to ride a horse, Poppy rides with Hawke while he holds her by the waist. He informs Poppy that he brought along the Diary of Ms. Willa Colyns. The group spends the night in the Blood Forest, but the Forest is extremely cold. Hawke lays down next to Poppy and proceeds to give her pleasure.
Poppy wakes up to overhear Kieran and Hawke discussing their plans of where to stop next. Kieran asks Hawke if he is ready to get to New Haven and indicates that he noticed the growing relationship between Hawke and Poppy. He reminds Hawke twice to remember his task. Hawke goes over to wake up Poppy, who had been feigning sleep. They hold hands and Kieran looks over concerned.
As the group continues to travel through the Blood Forest, they are ambushed by a barrat and a group of Craven. Poppy defends herself. Noah dies and Poppy notices Phillips kneeling next to Airrick. Poppy and Hawke quickly go to Airrick. With Phillips and Hawke watching, Poppy takes away Airrick’s pain as he passes into the Vale.
The group make it to New Haven and are greeted by a little boy, Elijah, and his wife Magda. Poppy notes that the town is excited and acts like they are in the presence of royalty. Hawke instructs Magda to take Poppy to a room and give her some clothes. Poppy is confused by how Hawke knew the woman’s name. Magda informs Poppy that the Lord of New Haven was off on a hunting trip with some guardsman. As Poppy takes a bath, she realizes that she did not want to Ascend and no longer wants to be the maiden. She decides that when she arrives at the Capital, she will tell the Queen and go into exile. She plans to ask Hawke to go into hiding with her.
Hawke arrives at the room and Poppy asks him to spend the night with her. Hawke resists at first stating that if he does spend the night, Poppy will no longer be a maiden. Poppy knows and Hawke and Poppy sleep together.
Poppy wakes to Hawke speaking to someone at the door. He leaves and later Phillips comes to the room. Phillips indicates that there is something suspicious going on at New Haven; he has never heard of Hawke or Kieren and neither have any of the other guards. Also, there are no Ascended or guards at New Haven and he has never heard of an Ascended going hunting. As he tries to drag Poppy to the stables, Poppy believes that Phillips must be working for the Dark One.
As Phillips drags Poppy away from her room, they run into Kieran, who transforms into a wolven. Poppy and Phillips run to the stables where the other royal guards are waiting. Poppy insists on finding Hawke, who shows up at the stable. Poppy starts to run to him trying to explain that Kieran is a wolven. Kieran steps up next to Hawke confusing Poppy. Hawke kills Phillips. Other people join the fight and Poppy notices Rylan's assassin, Jericho, who was missing a hand. The Royal Guards are killed and Poppy sustains a large wound to the abdomen.
Poppy and Hawke fight and Poppy gains the upper hands a few times. Delano, a wolven loyal to Hawke, wonders whether they should intervene but Elijah says no and that he is shocked a maiden could throw down. Kieran comments that this is what happened when you mix business with pleasure informing everyone that Hawke and Poppy had slept together. When Poppy realizes that Hawke is an Atlantian, the right leaves her and she deduces that Hawke plans to hand her over to the Dark One.
Delano leads Poppy down to the cellars. Hawke visits Poppy and stitches up a wound she received while trying to escape the stables. He tells Poppy that the Ascended were vampyr who needed to feed off mortals because of their strong blood lust, that the 3rd and 4th children handed over during the Rite were used to feed the Ascended, and that if those who were fed upon were drained and not killed, they would turn into the Craven. He tells her that the Dark One plans to trade her for the Dark One’s brother, Prince Malik. He informs Poppy that he must go speak with King Valyn Da’Neer of Atlantia, but that he will find her better quarters. Initially Poppy does not believe Hawke, but as she thinks about his words, she begins to question everything the Ascended taught her.
Naill, an Atlantian, and Delano come down to the cellar to escort her back into the castle. As they release her from her chains, Jericho with a group of angry wolven, Atlantians, and mortal descenters come down to execute Poppy. Delano changes to his wolven form and attacks. Naill throws a sword to Poppy and tells her to defend herself.
As Delano and Naill fight to save Poppy, Poppy also saves the life of Delano. Both Naill and Delano are taken down and Poppy is stabbed by Mr. Tulis. Jericho prepares to butcher her up as the crowd cheers and yells out which body parts should be cut off first. As Jericho swings his sword, Delano attacks him. While Naill fights the rest of the crowd, Delano noses Poppy and howls when he realizes the extent of Poppy's wounds. Kieran appears in his mortal form and tells someone to go get the Prince right away. Kieran picks up Poppy and carries her back to the castle.
Hawke tries to save Poppy and uses compulsion to get her to drink his blood. When she comes to, Poppy remembers Kieran having referred to Hawke as Casteel, and Poppy realizes that Hawke is the Dark One, Prince Casteel "Cas" Da'Neer. Poppy grabs her dagger and stabs Cas in the heart. She cries and apologizes for killing him. She run off into the woods. After a few moments of running in the woods, Cas grabs her from behind and indicates that he cannot be killed with a stab to the heart. He told her that she had forgotten that it was real and proceeds to bite her. After he bites her, he states that he should have known. Poppy and Casteel then have sexual relations in the snow. Afterwards, Poppy realizes she had no regrets.
As they walk back to the castle, Cas indicates that he is taking her home. Poppy wonders if it is Masadonia or Carsodonia, and Cas replies neither and that he is taking her to Atlantia. Poppy then takes a bath and falls asleep in the tub. She wakes up to find Kieran staring at her wondering if she died. Kieran tells her that she should get out of the bath as the Prince wouldn’t want her sitting in cold, dirty bath water. Poppy indicates that she doesn't care what Cas wants and Kieran replies "you should… because he wants you even though he knows better, even though he knows it will end in yet another tragedy."
After Poppy dresses, Cas enters telling Poppy to come down to dinner with him. Poppy resists but Cas indicates to Poppy that he needs to show people that Poppy is under his protection. Reluctantly, Poppy joins Cas and Kieran. As they head to the dining hall, Poppy realizes that those who attacked her had been spiked to the wall. Although most were dead, Jericho has been left alive with a stake through his throat to suffer a slow, torturous death. While eating, Poppy indicates that she did not feel bad for those staked to the wall because they were happy to kill her and cut up her body parts, but that everyone should be given dignity in death, even Jericho. At that point, Delano asks Cas if the plans have changed. Cas indicates that they will now be heading home since he discovered that Poppy is half-Atlantian after tasting her blood. He explains that they must return to Atlantia to marry.