Warning, major spoilers for “Red Riding Hood” follow.
Book 1 starts during winter in the year 1304. It is a month before the beginning of a long eclipse that will put the entire Northernlands in darkness.
Elanore Redley arrives shortly before the beginning of that eclipse.
As she walks to her grandmother’s home, she stumbles across a shadowy Unthing, a creature that has never been seen near the town of Winchester. She ends up taking refuge on the estate of a most unfriendly noble, Count Maximilian Wolfram.
Wolfram is a loner hiding a few secrets, including how long he has lived and his heritage. From his father’s side he inherited the blood of a halfling – a wolf who wanted to become human and learned how to take that form. His mother was a woman rescued by his father, a Snow White fleeing an old witch.
As a young man, Maximilian discovers he has a gift of magic while under attack from soulless creatures called Unthings that eat living beings — in particular those that seem to have outlived their function or fate. This magic gift, left alone, might have grown and allowed Wolfram to bcome a great power. But a sea witch traps him for her own reasons and abuses him. The resulting trauma leaves him emotionally and mentally powerless, long after he is rescued. Wolfram many years later finds that he cannot transform into a wolf or exploit the power of magic, specifically that of transforming energy from one source into forms of light.
Ironically, Elanore shows similar gifts as soon as she first steps on the grounds of his estate. She causes the Count’s home to wake from its sleep. First she causes a magical wooden door to alter its shape and then she wakes a stone lion from his slumber. This lion bears some connection to the guardian on the bridge outside town that protects the people from evil things.
This magic ties Elanore to the Count. Red Riding Hood and the Wolf share an unexpected link. But in forming this relationship, Elanore causes another man to come to a crisis.
Edmund Ormond is a hunter in Winchester. He is also Elanore’s childhood friend who has fallen out of contact in recent years. He meets her again and the Count’s interest in young Elanore causes him to reevaluate her.
Elanore unintentionally causes Edmund to come into conflict with the Count, thus initiating a face-off between hunter and wolf. Unfortunately for Edmund, he is not able to physically compete with the man. In a way, realizing his limitations forces him into an existential crisis. His confession to a trusted figure (the Friar) forces the man to reveal one particular thing — and that is everything Edmund had understood about how he was adopted was not quite true.
Just as Elanore’s arrival sets things into motion, another woman appears onto the scene. She appears to be a person with great interest in magic and one who may be the fabled Snow Queen.
This woman, calling herself Ilva, seeks out Edmund on what seems to be a whim. But her attentions seem to be rooted in something deeper. She is convinced that he is from her own village, lost years ago in some kind of attack. She hints that he and she are the last of a specific race, one that she doesn’t speak of for reasons of her own.
Although Edmund feels a kinship with the woman, he does not wholly trust her.
It turns out that Ilva is Selva, the runaway bride of the Count. Long ago she had been brought to him as a suitable mate and helper. And their strong wills and bad temperaments seemed to result in a separation.
Unfortunately the bad state of affairs between them creates another problem. Wolfram’s estate holds a great deal of magical power that is meant to be unlocked by a collective effort. Wolfram and Selva were supposed to protect the land together from whatever might emerge during the darkness created by the eclipse. But misunderstanding and separation meant they could not ultimately be ready.
The lions that Elanore has woken with Edmund’s assistance insist that the two can unlock a great deal of magic, enough to wake all the statues in the courtyard of the Wolfram estate. The creatures hint at more, calling them the prophesied vessels for the world to be born from the chaos of darkness.
Selva and the Count are reconciled, almost by the sheer will of Edmund who cannot stand watching Selva in pain and who finds everything about the Count and his ways to be infuriating.
Through the manipulations of Elanore’s grandmother and Selva, the Count soon finds himself providing shelter to not only the townspeople of Winchester, his cousins who have arrived from all over the subcontinent, and also the hunters his family hates.
When the darkness falls upon the land, the inhabitants find themselves battling some troublesome creatures. However, a great deal many of shadowy Unthings come to the estate, perhaps seeking out the Count who, as we have now learned, has been swallowed by them before.
Even as Elanore and Edmund summon magic to try to destroy the Unthings, they cannot do enough to remove the entire problem. They are forced to leave by the Count, who has made a bargain for their safety.
The Unthings prove too much for him and his cousins. When Selva falls in a last-ditch attempt to use elemental powers to stop the creatures, he goes berserk and then is swallowed whole by the Unthings.
His form becomes that of a truly monstrous shadow-wolf but one that can barely even maintain that form. He is too despondent, alone, and afraid of living. The Unthings seem intent on removing that last bit of him from existence.
But Elanore defies the attempt to keep her safe and returns to those she left behind. She helps revive Selva and they, with Edmund, go to the monstrous shadow and are able to reach the Count’s consciousness.
The shape of the monster disappears as do the Unthings. The monster becomes a man once again, the curse apparently broken.
As the book ends, the eclipse has passed and so it seems have the Unthings. The Count surprises Edmund out of the blue, telling Edmund that he believes the young man to be his son, with Selva as his mother. Edmund rejects this as unlikely.
And the real Snow Queen pays Selva a visit, telling her that something is on her mind. As she departs to seek out the mystic Swan Queen, she provides Selva a warning that winter is still far from over.