In an alternate reality, Thursday Next lives in 1985 London with her genetically cloned dodo, Pickwick. The Crimean War has been going on for 131 years. Thursday fought in the Crimea in the 1970’s and the bad memories haunt her. She is an operative with SpecOps 27, also known as Litera Tec. People have strong feelings regarding literature in Thursday’s time. Baconians go door to door trying to convince citizens that Francis Bacon is the true author of Shakespeare’s plays. Thursday is good at her job, but her time is mostly spent authenticating manuscripts. Needless to say, she jumps at the chance to accept a temporary assignment with SpecOps 5.
Fillip Tamworth recruits Thursday Next temporarily to help him capture the master criminal Acheron Hades. Thursday is one of the few people who know what Hades looks like. He was an English lecturer during her university days and she was able to resist his mysterious charms. He is suspected of stealing an original Martin Chuzzlewit manuscript. Acheron Hades has mysterious powers, which make him difficult to capture and his lack of morals make him extremely dangerous. Hades is impervious to any weapon and his image does not show up on any photograph or video recording. He is also able to hypnotize people and to appear as other people.
Thursday is on stakeout with agents Snood and Buckworth when Hades arrives at his brother’s apartment to retrieve the missing manuscript. Thursday decides to go in and ends up taking Tamworth with her as well. Hades senses them coming and the mission ends in disaster. Hades kills Tamworth as well as Snood. Buckworth runs away. Thursday is shot and left for dead, but fortunately a mysterious stranger keeps her alive until help arrives. Once Thursday begins to recover she must deal with the backlash and the news that Hades died after a chase by SO-14 officers. Wracked with guilt and on the advice from her future self, Thursday leaves town and takes a job with the Swindon branch of SO-27. Swindon is Thursday’s hometown and holds some very painful memories for her.
Thursday is determined to prove that Hades is still alive, and she wants to be the one who brings him to justice. Unfortunately, she has to deal with Jack Schitt from Goliath Corporation’s Advanced Weapons Division, who also wants to find Hades for his own nefarious purposes. New to Swindon SpecOps Thursday quickly shows that she is not afraid to go where others fear to tread. She helps Spike Stoker from SO-17 when he calls for assistance when all of the other officers perpetually ignore his calls. Thursday assists Spike in destroying a dangerous vampire by getting him the medicine he needs to control his own vampirism symptoms. In return, Spike gives Thursday a silver bullet for future use. Her new partner is Bowden Cable, who is not used to working with someone who takes as many risks as Thursday Next. The Litera Tec officers in Swindon are more academically inclined and spend most of their time behind a desk authenticating manuscripts.
Landen Parke-Laine contacts Thursday when she arrives in town. The two met during their time in the Crimean. They fell in love and Landen also became best friends with Thursday’s brother, Anton. After the disastrous Charge of the Light Armored Brigade, where Anton lost his life, Landen gave evidence against him saying that he sent his men the wrong way, which led straight into the guns of the enemy and thus led to their subsequent slaughter. Thursday could not forgive what she saw as Landen’s betrayal of someone who was supposedly his best friend. She had not seen or spoken to Landen in ten years. When Thursday meets him for the first time on her return part of her wishes they could start over, but the other part still cannot forgive him, so she drives him back into the arms of Daisy Mutlar, the woman to whom he is engaged and is to wed in two weeks.
Thursday’s search for Acheron Hades hits close to home when the master criminal kidnaps her uncle Mycroft Next, an inventor, and his Prose Portal, which allows people to travel into any novel they choose. Acheron Hades wishes to use the portal to kidnap literary characters and hold them for ransom. Mycroft refuses to cooperate at first, but soon complies since Hades has his wife Polly trapped in William Wordsworth’s poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud. Mycroft is allowed to visit Polly periodically to keep him docile. Hades uses Mycroft’s portal to kidnap Mr. Quaverley from the Martin Chuzzlewit novel and makes his demands of the government. When the government tries to trick Hades and capture him at the drop site, Mr. Quaverley is killed and thus erased from the novel. Hades plans to kidnap and kill Martin Chuzzlewit in retaliation. Before he can carry out his plan, however, Mycroft burns the manuscript.
Unfazed by Mycroft defeating his plan, Hades concocts a new plan where he steals the original Charlotte Bronte manuscript for Jane Eyre. The outcry is unprecedented when Jane Eyre is kidnapped from her novel and the story comes to an abrupt end on page 107. The government buys time by agreeing to Hades’s demands while Thursday works hard to find his hideout. She eventually discovers he is hiding in a hotel in Wales. Using her contacts Thursday and Bowden Cable are smuggled into Wales, whose borders are difficult to cross unless you are Welsh. They find Hades at his hideout, but he has sensed their presence and is expecting them. Not only do they find Hades, but they also find Jack Schitt, who is making a deal with the criminal in order to use the Prose Portal to obtain working plasma rifles from a plasma rifle weapons manual.
The subsequent confrontation between the different factions turns into a shootout, which is interrupted by Thursday’s dad, Colonel Next, who was an officer with SO-12, the ChronoGuard. He went rogue when Thursday was a girl and was deleted from history by the ChronoGuard. Colonel Next’s skillful use of time manipulation, however, allows him to remain in his family’s life through periodic visits. Her dad’s appearance saves Thursday from a bullet to the chest and Bowden from a bullet to the head. Hades who is unaffected by the stoppage of time escapes into the Jane Eyre novel. When the shooting stops Thursday is able to follow Hades into the novel taking Jane Eyre with her.
Thursday has read Jane Eyre countless times and it was a copy of the book in her pocket, which kept Hades’ bullet to her chest from killing her. This is also not the first time Thursday has been in the novel Jane Eyre. As a young girl she was transported into the book just at the pivotal moment where Rochester first meets Jane. Thursday changed the way the couple met by her mere presence. Edward Rochester has even left the book to come to Thursday’s aid. He was the mysterious stranger who kept her alive until help arrived after she had been shot. Once inside of the book Thursday enlists Mr. Rochester’s help in finding and defeating Hades. Upon Jane Eyre’s return the story begins to write itself once more. Thursday and Mr. Rochester must work in the shadows to find Hades and not interact with Jane in a way that will change the story.
Thursday soon finds Hades at an inn in the town near Thornfield. Hades knows that Thursday holds the key to his returning to the real world so in the end the two confront one another. The showdown takes place at Thornfield, but Rochester and Thursday find an unexpected ally in Bertha Rochester, who attacks Hades and grabs the Prose Portal operation manual he had carried in with him. The two end up on the roof after setting the house on fire. Thursday and Mr. Rochester can only watch as Bertha stabs Hades with a pair of silver scissors several times. Thursday eventually realizes that the silver has an effect on Hades’ powers. Unfortunately, Mr. Rochester is wounded in the hand and Bertha Rochester is thrown from the roof by Hades before Thursday is able to shoot him with a silver bullet thus killing him. Mr. Rochester and Thursday must then escape the burning house. Part of the roof collapses knocking Thursday unconscious and Mr. Rochester has to get her to safety although his sight has been impaired.
Thursday is trapped in the Jane Eyre novel, which is quickly coming to its conclusion. Once the book ends Thursday will be unable to return to her reality. Unfortunately, the code words she has given to Mycroft to bring her out of the book needs to be spoken by Mr. Rochester in front of Jane Eyre since the book is written from the perspective of the heroine. Jane, however, is away from Thornfield at the home of the Rivers and will not see Mr. Rochester again before the book ends.
Thursday devises a way to save herself and to give Jane and Mr. Rochester the happy ending they were denied by the books original ending. She goes to the house of the Rivers, when Jane is trying to decide whether or not to marry St. John Rivers and go with him to India. Thursday calls Jane’s name through the window in an impersonation of Rochester’s voice. Jane immediate decides to return to Thornfield. She finds Mr. Rochester wounded and widowed. The hero then manages to utter Thursday’s code words and she leaves the book, changing the ending of the book so that Jane and Mr. Rochester are able to marry and live happily ever after. Once she is free Mycroft is able to save Polly from the Wordsworth poem in which she is trapped. Jack Schitt takes the opportunity to try one last time to profit from the Prose Portal and places the plasma rifle weapons manual in the machine so that he may bring back a working weapon. Bowden and Mycroft foil his plan by pushing him in alone and without his soldiers and then destroying the machine so that he cannot return. Bowden later reveals that he took the liberty of replacing the weapons manual book cover with that of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, thus Schitt placed the poetry book in the machine rather than the weapons manual.
After returning to England Thursday goes to the church to stop Landen and Daisy’s wedding. At the last minute she loses her nerve, but luckily Mr. Rochester and Jane have sent someone to stop the wedding for her. It is revealed that Daisy is already married. After the bride and her family make a hasty exit, Landen asks Thursday to marry him and she accepts. They are married one month later.