After two years on the run, Rosemarie Hathaway and Princess Vasilisa Dragomir are finally captured and forcibly returned to St. Vladimir's Academy. Rose is saved from almost certain expulsion for her irresponsible endangerment of the Dragomir princess by an unexpected ally: Lissa's newly assigned guardian, Dimitri Belikov, has picked up on a psychic bond between the girls which has existed ever since a car accident - miraculously survived by Rose - that killed Lissa's family. Dimitri volunteers to mentor Rose so that she can continue as a novice at the Academy, despite having fallen hopelessly behind her peers.
Headmistress Kirova seems convinced that the girls fled the school to avoid punishment for a minor misdemeanor, but it soon becomes apparent that their motive was more complicated. The two best friends are not willing to relinquish any of their secrets lightly; as the novel progresses, so the mystery becomes more convoluted, answers only giving rise to further questions.
Although Rose does not go unpunished, the two girls settle back into Academy life and Rose agrees to refrain from any further breakout attempts as long as Lissa, whose mental state is particularly fragile, stays out of the scheming and power games that constitute the lives of the other royal students.
While Lissa develops an unlikely relationship with Christian Ozera, the only royal with more issues than her, Rose and Dimitri gradually become aware that they are falling in love with each other, even though nothing can ever come of it. Amidst the burgeoning romances, the girls and Mia Rinaldi, who harbors an inexplicable vendetta against Lissa, alternately take revenge on one another, their actions becoming increasingly malicious. Furthermore, Lissa keeps receiving gruesome gifts of animals on the brink of death; does someone know about the secret healing powers she has wielded ever since the accident? However, the foremost concern on Rose's mind is figuring out what it means to be "shadow-kissed", and what the connection between St. Vladimir himself, a deranged teacher and Lissa might be, before her best friend goes completely off the rails.
As significant events from two years earlier are slowly revealed, it becomes evident that the secrets of the past hold many clues to the drama unfolding in the present.
Eventually, the pieces come together. Christian explains what lies beneath Mia's implacable anger, and the culprits behind the disturbing presents are revealed. But not before Rose and Dimitri are put out of action in a highly original way, allowing Lissa to be kidnapped by someone very close to her. It is up to Rose to work out where she is, engineer her rescue, and try to block the evil designs of the mastermind behind everything.