This tale as old as time starts out routinely enough: we're introduced to Lucinda "Luce" Price as she barges through the front doors of Sword & Cross high school, her new home away from home—and a drab and humid replacement for Dover Prep, where she was previously the top of her class and had a well-adjusted life.
We're quickly introduced to three of Luce's new classmates: Gabbe Givens, Cam Blaine, and Todd Hammond. They all have to turn over their cellphones, as well as any other contraband materials.
No cell phones? What, is this the 80s?
Randy, the tour-guide for this little expedition, pairs Luce with Arriane, a self-proclaimed "psycho" student who is charged with showing Luce around the campus on her first day. Meanwhile, Luce is trying really hard not to think about what got her sent to Sword & Cross in the first place, a secret she attempts to keep from her fellow classmates.
This secret is a doozy. The spring before, Luce was with a boy named Trevor, her first quasi-boyfriend, and they had been together at a lake house with some of their classmates. Luce, who has been seeing shadows following her around ever since she can remember, was feeling on edge this night, and before she knew it, Trevor was gone, having burst to flames.
Because Luce was the only one there to witness the event, she got the blame, even though she couldn't explain what had happened to Trevor any more than she could explain the shadows to her parents the first time she saw them years ago.
Okay, so all in all, her first date could have gone better.
After getting her on and off meds for years, Luce's parents finally decided to send her here, to Sword & Cross, where the uniform is black on black, the students need to follow the rules, and there's an old Civil War-era cemetery on the grounds.
During Luce's first day, things go as well as they probably could. Arriane asks Luce to give her a haircut, and Luce avoids talking about what exactly landed her at Sword & Cross in the first place.
When they stumble upon the other students milling about in front of one of the classrooms, Luce gets her first glimpse of someone tall, blonde, and handsome. Arriane informs her that this hottie is Daniel Grigori, a guy Arriane says "holds pretty tight to his mystery man persona" (1.185). Luce stares at this new dreamboat a little longer than is probably polite and is rewarded with a delighted smile.
And then he flips her off.
Ouch, that's rough.
With her heart appropriately stomped on, Luce tries to brush off this not-so-hot first encounter, even though she can't shake the feeling that she and this mystery boy have met somewhere before. At this point, we know she's sunk, even as Cam, the reform baddie with the green eyes and intense smile, offers Luce his full and not hostile attention. Cam's a great guy, sure, but he doesn't have that dreamy stare or that ability to be entirely rude to someone in fewer than ten seconds of meeting them, so Luce isn't quite into him.
Cam makes up for Daniel's cold-shoulder treatment in spades, inviting Luce to a party and handing her a custom-made guitar pick with his room number on it so that she can know where to find him. Luce also meets Molly, a total mean girl who crushes meatloaf into Luce's hair and then taunts her about it. Luce, a vegetarian and not a huge fan of meatloaf, is crushed by the premise of having to wear meat residue for the rest of the day.
That's when she meets Penn, the daughter of the school's former groundskeeper and the eyes and ears of the place. Seriously, if something's going on in your life, Penn will know about it before you do. The girl is that good.
Luce decides early on that Penn is not only a nice person, but she's also a genuinely good friend to have around if you ever need dirt on a classmate—or if you ever need to get yourself into or out of any specific rooms in the school.
That night, Luce tries to make her dorm room her own, but finding that this task leads only to Pity Party Central, she goes to the library and meets Miss Sophia, the only member of the faculty who seems actually nice. At the library, Luce has another run-in with Daniel: she stumbles upon him sketching a picture of the campus' cemetery. The odd thing is that she could almost swear that he was drawing a picture of her—it's like she's seen him drawing her before. But when he turns around, she sees he's just drawn the cemetery.
Daniel, come on, man. You know Luce looks nothing like a cemetery.
Whatever these vibes Luce is feeling from Daniel mean, she's desperate to know more, even after hearing from Molly that she should stay far away from him. Daniel doesn't seem keen on getting to know Luce, but during their shared detention cleaning up the cemetery, Daniel saves her from a falling statue that almost turns her into a pancake.
So, if Daniel hates her so much, why save her life? Well, because he'd be a jerk if he didn't, sure—but why else?
Luce and Daniel have a few more curious almost moments, which draw Luce deeper toward him and which make her only more determined than ever to know him. Since Luce can't shake this thing she feels for Daniel, Penn offers up her assistance in digging into the kid's elusive past. With Penn's help, Luce learns that Daniel's school file has almost nothing in it: there's no reason for him to be at this school at all, except for a couple of misdemeanors. He's apparently an orphan from California, but the biggest clue of all comes from a book entitled The Watchers: Myth in Medieval Europe—which happens to be written by a D. Grigori.
Does this mean Daniel comes from a long line of angelology scholars?
It's a pretty cool discovery and all…but then the library goes up in flames. You know, as is customary when you're casually trying to stalk your classmate and learn about the dude's past.
Luckily, Luce, Penn, and Miss Sophia make it out, but Todd Hammond, who up until this moment we don't really know anything about, doesn't. He's basically Trevor all over again. What is it with Luce and fire?
With the deaths of two of her classmates hanging over her head, Luce confides in Daniel, and surprisingly, he lets her do it, making her feel both off balance and completely overjoyed.
But Luce is also dealing with affections from Cam, who up until this point has tried everything he can think of to spend time with her, including arranging picnics for them and giving her gifts. But with that pull toward Daniel growing stronger every time she sees him, Luce knows it's wrong to string Cam along, so she tries to break it off.
When Cam invites her off campus to a seedy bar called Styx, Luce meets him with the intention of telling him the truth. But before she can, Cam seriously freaks her out and beats up a guy in front of her. The one saving grace of the evening is that Daniel finds her and rescues her, and the two share a kiss that Luce has pretty much been waiting for this whole book. But then Daniel freaks her out by acting weird about the whole thing, like he expected her to disappear right after it happened.
From there, the truth, as bizarre as it is, comes out.
Daniel—spoiler alert, except we can see this coming 1500 miles away—is a fallen angel who has been falling in love with Luce every time he sees her in seventeen-year intervals for his entire existence. But every time they kiss, she dies. He won't tell her why this happens; he only says that they're both damned, and that Luce's seventeen-year reincarnation cycle is some sort of punishment for him.
Luce also learns that Cam, Arriane, Gabbe, Roland, and even Molly are also fallen angels, and that Miss Sophia is one of Heaven's twenty-four elders called the Zhsmaelim. While Daniel and Cam—who has joined the side of evil, along with Roland and Molly—are waging a battle outside, Miss Sophia takes Luce to the library, apparently to keep her safe. But Miss Sophia's real plan is to kill Luce once and for all while Daniel is distracted, to stop her reincarnation and put an end to what she calls "the longest, greatest battle ever fought" (19.26).
In a move of utter diabolical wickedness, Miss Sophia up and kills Penn right before revealing her plan to Luce. That makes this dudette evil x10 in our books, because all Penn did was probably be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Thankfully, Daniel, Arriane, and Gabbe save Luce right before Miss Sophia can get her terrible job done and kill Luce, too, so she takes off, having been thwarted by the angels. With Luce temporarily safe, Daniel makes a plan to have her sent away from Sword & Cross until things calm down and he can continue to help her remember the many pasts they've shared, which Luce herself is just starting to piece together.
Man, and we thought our high school experience was stressful.