A seemingly depressed man is ready for graduate school, and things start to make sense to him when he is accepted into a college for future magicians. The world of fantasy that he has loved so much growing up becomes a reality. His best friend is not so lucky, and she gets involved with a not so prestigious group of magicians.
Quentin is distraught as he faces expulsion for his involvement in an otherworldly attack on Brakebills, while Julia delves deeper into underground magic and takes a test to prove herself to the Hedge Witches.
Quentin and Julia have an unexpected - and volatile - reunion. Penny is overwhelmed by the power of his own psychic abilities and Alice is determined to find out what happened to her missing brother - at any cost.
Quentin wakes up in a mental hospital and must set his panic aside to seek the help of the one person he least trusts. Julia is hurt after her fallout with Quentin and commits to learning more powerful spells with the Hedge Witches.
Although everyone should be training for the upcoming Welter's Tournament, the students are each dealing with a personal distraction that keeps them from staying focused.
The First Years are thrust into the old Brakebills tradition of The Trials, a midterm-slash-hazing ritual in which failing means flunking out for good. Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, Julia meets a fellow blacklisted Hedge Witch.
The students are taught by an overbearing teacher while back at Brakebills Elliott and Margon prepare for a debaucherous vacation.
Brakebills is thrown into chaos when Penny is violently attacked by someone they thought was a friend while Quentin tries to find a connection to The Beast. After entering a rehab facility, Julia considers giving up magic for good.
Quentin, Alice, Eliot and Penny travel to England to Plover's estate in search of a missing magic button, but what they find is a hauntingly terrifying vision of the author's true self. Julia, now out of rehab, searches for real meaning in her magic, but it comes at a very high cost.
As Quentin and Alice try to save him, Penny learns that the Neitherlands is not as friendly as he thought. Julia attempts to join the Free Traders, an eclectic group of Magicians.
Prior to a showdown in Fillory, Quetin and crew get a crash course in Battle magic. During preparations, frustrations flare leading to some getting closer and others being pulled apart. Julia and Kady, while on a mission with the Free Traders, finds their limits put to the test.
The students wake up with foggy memories and regret after a night of drinking; Penny reminds everyone that their lives depend on getting to The Neitherlands.
Quentin and Julia are using time magic to get to Fillory, where they try to catch up with the students who are 70 years ahead of them searching for the Beast.