Read a full summary of The Ballad of Never After, book #2, in Stephanie Garber’s Once Upon a Broken Heart series. This page is full of spoilers, so beware. If you are wondering what happened in The Ballad of Never After, then you are in the right place!
Special thanks to Joyce den Bak for providing this recap! Follow on Instagram @bookish.joyce!
***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****
What happened in The Ballad of Never After?
The book starts off with a letter written by Evangeline, the pink-haired girl whose blood opens any door. She addresses herself and warns her future self against Jacks, a cunning Fate, who had her new husband, Prince Apollo, poisoned and suspended in a sleeping state to manipulate her into opening the Valory Arch. Behind it, there’s something Jacks wants, and although he has made Evangeline believe he cares about her in the past, she has recently realized she is nothing but a key to that Arch to Jacks. In her letter, she stresses that she must trust Apollo and that he will wake again and be her happily ever after.
The Arch was built by the Valors, the first royal family of the Magnificent North. It is a passage to Valory, and there are conflicting accounts on what it is, precisely: it is either a treasure chest with magical gifts or a prison locking away dangerous, magical beings. None of the stories about the Arch can be fully trusted because there is a curse that will twist the words of anyone trying to talk about it. The only truth Evangeline has to hold on to now is that Jack can’t be trusted with whatever lies behind that door.
Part I – A Cruelty of Curses
Evangeline is at the sealed door in the Wolf Hall’s royal library. She wants to open it, hoping she’ll find a cure for her poisoned husband in the old magic books that are said to be kept behind it. Jacks appears, and as soon as Evangeline confronts him with Apollo’s poisoning and current state, he confesses callously. He is not sorry, and Evangeline once again resolves not to be fooled by him again, so when he offers to wake and save Apollo if Evangeline opens the Valor Arch for him, she refuses to enter into a new bargain with him. Jacks disappears, and Evangeline opens the sealed door with her blood. Behind it, she finds no old books but an arch. She touches her bloody finger to it, and on it, the Valor Arch prophecy starts glowing. Evangeline panics, realizing this is the Valor Arch itself, even though it is supposed to be hidden and broken. She is interrupted by the old librarian who showed her this place, and he tells her she must hurry and find the four missing pieces of the arch, the four stones: one for luck, one for truth, one for mirth, and one for youth, so the arch can be opened. He also warns her the stones are powerful and deceptive, but before he’s done talking, he goes up in smoke, leaving Evangeline to wonder who or what he was.
Evangeline ignores the librarian’s words, and she and Havelock, Apollo’s personal guard, continue looking for remedies for Apollo. Apollo’s vulnerable, inanimate state is kept a secret, and as far as anyone knows, he was killed by his brother Tiberius, and his successor, Lucien Acadian, is to arrive at Wolf Hall tomorrow. Evangeline’s best hope right now is LaLa, the Unwed Bride, another Fate, and Evangeline’s friend. As she visits her, LaLa announces she is engaged and moving houses, even though it is her fate to be left at the altar. As Evangeline tells her the truth about Apollo and Jacks’s attempt to blackmail her into opening the Valory Arch, LaLa looks very frightened for a moment but then relaxes and enthusiastically encourages Evangeline to go along with Jacks’s plan. She tells Evangeline she herself is not powerful enough to wake Apollo and that Honora Valor (one of the creators of the Arch) is the only person to have ever used and lifted a suspended state like the one Apollo is in. Evangeline is torn: she wants to save Apollo and is not afraid of opening the Arch, but she feels she cannot trust Jacks in the slightest. As she visits Apollo and thinks about it, Jacks reappears and repeats his offer, but suddenly, Apollo grabs Evangeline’s arm and does not let go. Jacks uses a knife on Apollo to get him to release Evangeline, and a mirror cut appears on her hand. It appears someone has cursed them both, tying their lives and fates together so that any harm done to Apollo harms Evangeline, too, and vice versa. Jacks didn’t do this, he claims, and they both rush from the room, only to find that Apollo’s successor, Lucien, has arrived early and has held his crowning ceremony without Evangeline. He summons her now, and as Evangeline meets him, he is revealed to be Luc, Evangeline’s first love, who tried to marry her stepsister and was turned into a vampire by the vampire lord Chaos. Luc tries to bite Evangeline, but Jacks saves her and follows her outside. In the gardens, Apollo suddenly appears, seemingly awake but not quite right. He shoots Evangeline, wounding her gravely, but Jacks catches and saves her again. After she faints, Evangeline dreams of the Ballad of the Archer and the Fox, an old story of an Archer cursed to hunt the girl he loves but wakes before the end. She finds herself in a cage in Chaos’s castle, where Jacks and Chaos tell her they will let her be bitten by a vampire to heal her from her wounds. Evangeline realizes Jacks was behind the ruse with Luc, too, and resists the bite, but she isn’t strong enough. She is kept in the cage to keep her from biting a human and turning, and in the meantime, Chaos tells her he wants to open the arch, too. He is cursed to wear a helmet that he’ll be able to remove from his head with what’s behind the arch. The next day, when she’s healed and released from the cage, she escapes the castle and runs into the surrounding woods, where Apollo immediately finds her and hunts her again. Jacks once again saves her, and they realize the married couple was not only cursed with a mirror curse but with the Archer’s curse, too. Jacks swears this wasn’t him but confesses Evangeline is not the first key to live and that the Protectorate, who are charged with keeping the arch closed, hunts down pink-haired girls to prevent them from acting as key. Evangeline now realizes she has but two options: work with Jacks to open the arch (even though she still does not know what he wants behind it) to release the curses placed on her and Apollo, or be hunted by her own husband until he kills her and himself in the process.
And so she enters into a new bargain with Jacks, and once they find safety in Chaos’s castle again, they break into the vampire lord’s office to snoop and find a precious gem. Chaos catches them in the act and wrestles the stone back from Evangeline, revealing that it is the luck stone, the first of the missing stones of the Valor Arch. The previous girl who was the key found it before she was killed. Chaos takes them to his secret library, where he keeps all books with knowledge about the arch. They remain mostly unread because their words change each time they are opened due to the story curse that hides the truth about the Valor Arch. Here, Evangeline starts her search for the other stones while Jacks goes off doing something secret. In her research, she finds that all accounts on the Valor family are good and very positive until something major happens, after which they build the arch and their heads are chopped off. Try as she might, she can’t find anything on that major event or where the stones are. Next, she researches the thirteen Great Houses that took over after the Valor beheadings. Names, titles, and words change on her constantly because of the curse, but she reads about House Merrywood, or Bitterwood, and its namesake village, home to a trio of handsome but troublesome young men: Prince Castor Valor, Lyric Merrywood, and ‘a cocky archer’. As soon as she reads this, Chaos appears, distracts her, and disappears with the book she was reading. A piece of paper is left in its place, an old page on the stones. It depicts a little dragon with the luck stone, a skull for the truth stone, the mirth stone atop a flower garden, and the youth stone with a fiery shield. She spends weeks further researching them and, in the meantime, reads of Tiberius’s arrest and LaLa’s upcoming nuptials to a lord named Robin Slaughterwood in the scandal sheet. Hoping Tiberius knows something about the four missing stones, Evangeline plans a secret visit to his prison tower. She tells him his brother Apollo lives, albeit doubly cursed, but he refuses to aid her search to open the arch, fearful of what’s behind it. On her way back to Chaos’s castle, she happens upon Luc in the forests, who shows her his invitation to LaLa’s engagement party, hoping she will join him. Evangeline refuses but realizes all the great houses will be present at the party, wondering if any of them possesses one of the stones and if they might take it to the party. Back at the castle, she shares this with Jacks, who has finally returned, and together, they plan to attend the party. Jacks warns Evangeline they cannot share this with Chaos, who’d never let them go because he hates the Slaughterwoods for causing all of this in the first place. This puzzles her greatly because Chaos also actively discourages her research on the Slaughterwood family, but Jacks refuses to elaborate. As she packs for the party, Evangeline spots one of the books from Chaos’s library that originally contained information on the Valor family but is now titled ‘The Archer and The Fox.’ Inside, Evangeline finds a series of portraits. One of Vengeance Slaughterwood with his unnamed bride-to-be, another one of Vengeance with his second bride, and then one of a trio of men, one of which, to her surprise, is Jacks. It is the Merrywood three, but Jacks looks ordinary here, mortal. Evangeline asks about it when he walks in, but he denies being part of the three, and the book turns blank.
Part II – An Unkindness of Stories
While they travel to Slaughterwood, Evangeline mulls it over. One of the trio was Lyric Merrywood, one was the archer, one Prince Castor Valor. And one of them is also Jacks. Could Jacks be Prince Castor, beheaded according to the stories but somehow saved from death and now eager to open the arch because he knows what his family put behind it? As they pass Merrywood on the way to Slaughterwood, Jacks wakes up from a nap and shares the story of the trio: Lyric Merrywood fell in love with Aurora Valor, Castor’s sister, but she was Vengeance Slaughterwood’s bride-to-be, the unnamed girl in the portrait, betrothed since birth as an ally match between the families. Aurora left Vengeance at the altar, who then exacted his revenge on the entire Merrywood House, killing Castor in the process. Evangeline can’t tell who Jacks is in this story, but it’s clear to her he is affected by it.
Evangeline has a happy reunion with LaLa, who shows her around the sprawling Slaughterwood castle. She spots several portraits of Vengeance’s second bride, Glendora. After she’s been shown to her room, she overhears Jacks and LaLa talking about her, and it seems Jacks has been searching for a way to break the curse on her and Apollo – almost as if he cares. It makes her wonder if she would dare to acknowledge her feelings about him, too, and if he might be trustworthy after all. LaLa only remarks she hopes Jacks has brought enough of the apples he seems to be perpetually snacking on.
At dinner, Jacks and Evangeline meet Robin Slaughterwood, LaLa’s fiancé. He recognizes Evangeline from the scandal sheets but asks to be introduced to Jacks, who merely states he is from an old House and that everyone in his family died a long time ago, sparking more of Evangeline’s curiosity about his heritage. As they dance and dine, Evangeline watches Jacks flirt with various girls and is overcome by such intense jealousy that it makes her wonder if she is being influenced by one of the stones. Over food, she talks with a young woman named Petra Youngblood, and in the meantime, Jacks steals off with one of the flirting girls. Evangeline follows him, jealous and scared Jacks will kill the girl with his lethal kiss. She finds and disturbs the two in a hidden corridor, with an entrance concealed by a portrait of Glendora Slaughterwood. On her way out, Evangeline bumps into Kristof Knightlinger, the scandal sheet writer, and fibs her way out of an article about herself.
Sometime later, unable to sleep because of Jacks’s behavior, Evangeline turns to the changing book, and this time, it’s called The Inglorious History of House Slaughterwood. It now contains an old scandal sheet cutting with an article about a monster and a series of attacks on House Slaughterwood shortly after Castor Valor’s death during the slaying of House Merrywood. The article seems to suggest the monster that tears out the throats of its victims is a Valor creation to avenge Castor’s death. The book also contains an entry on Glendora Slaughterwood, and Evangeline realizes the hidden corridor she was in earlier with Jacks leads to Glendora’s tomb. The entry also mentions how much mirth and flowers Glendora brought to the Slaughterwoods, and this leads Evangeline to believe Glendora may have been in possession of the mirth stone and may have been buried with it. Under cover of darkness, she goes back, only to find Luc has followed her to House Slaughterwood and into the tomb, having read in the scandal sheets that Knightlinger had spotted Evangeline at LaLa’s party. With his vampire strength, he helps open Glendora’s coffin, and there Evangeline indeed finds a stone on a chain. She takes it with her and goes back to her room, where she sees Petra secretly leaving Jacks’s room, but when she goes to check in on him, he is not there. She falls asleep in his bed.
The next day, LaLa hosts a Famous Couples-themed ball and leaves a Fox costume on Evangeline’s bed. In poor taste, she thinks, but she puts it on regardless. When she goes to Jacks room to go to the ball together, she eavesdrops on his conversation with LaLa, which reveals that Knightlinger has indeed announced Evangeline’s presence at LaLa’s home, that Tiberius has escaped his prison tower and thus might very well be on his way to kill Evangeline together with Apollo, and that LaLa was actually the one to put the mirror and the Archer curse on Evangeline and Apollo, because she too, wants Evangeline to open the Valor Arch. Evangeline also hears LaLa taunting Jacks with his feelings for Evangeline, but he stubbornly repeats his claim he does not want her and only cares about the stones. Deeply hurt by both Fates, Evangeline flees to the ballroom. There, she meets Petra again, who sees her distress and takes her through another secret passage. As she starts to question her safety, Evangeline feels Glendora’s stone on the chain around her neck come to life. She feels at once it is not the mirth stone but the truth stone, and as its power grows, it forces the truth out of Petra: her hair is pink, she is another key, she has found the youth stone, and she is here to kill Evangeline. She was also the one to find the luck stone, the one currently in Chaos’s possession, and Petra warns Evangeline he will take the truth stone, too. Petra has faked her own death using the youth stone because she realized Chaos didn’t care about her life, only about the stones, and wanted to escape him. Petra has also discovered what the combined power of the stones can do, apart from opening the Valor Arch, but before the truth is forced from her lips, she attempts to kill Evangeline. Evangeline defends herself and ends up killing her. Jacks finds her there, overcome with grief and guilt, and tells her to pack her bags while he deals with the body so they can run for her safety. They take the youth stone from Petra, and Evangeline returns to her room, barely able to see straight with emotion. She finds Luc waiting for her there, but before he gets a chance to talk, Evangeline feels a terrible pain in her back and realizes Apollo is being tortured and whipped. Jacks arrives then, too, as her back starts to bleed and Evangeline faints from the pain. Before she loses consciousness, she hears Jacks ordering Luc to find Chaos and tell him to get Apollo to safety so both can heal.
Jacks takes her to a safe place, an inn in Merrywood, where magic suspends the effects of any curse, and the lashing stops. He takes gentle care of her, and Evangeline wakes with a fully healed back. In a beam near her bed, she finds four names carved into the wood: Aurora, Lyric, Castor, and Jacks. A fifth one is added later: the Archer. Again, it makes Evangeline wonder who Jacks really was before he became a Fate. Was he part of the Merrywood three? Jacks persists in telling her Castor and Lyric were his friends but that Aurora was bothersome and that he wasn’t friends with the Archer. When he leaves to run some errands, Evangeline explores the inn, which seems to be alive and running itself. Food magically appears, there is a strange magic clock, and she feels happy and safe, cozy even. She finds another wood carving, one that says Aurora + Jacks. She tries to confront Jacks when he returns, but in turn, he confronts her with the stone hanging around her neck. She distracts him from finding out it is one of the missing stones. Over food, she interrogates him on the inn, how it stops the curses from working here, and his past. He quickly catches on to the effect of the truth stone, but before he can snatch the stone from her, she asks him the one question that keeps pestering her: why does he want to open the arch? He then takes the stone and leaves the room, but Evangeline can just catch the admission that he actually doesn’t want to open it at all…
Jacks’s words make Evangeline go over everything that has happened. She realizes that if he doesn’t want the stones to open the arch, he must be after the power of the stones themselves. She explores the inn again, now looking for whatever information on Jacks, the combined power of the stones and his desires, she can find. Again, he has proven himself untrustworthy, and he purely considers her a means to an end. That night, she dreams of a handsome stranger waiting for her at the end of a dock, someone who seems to know Jacks well. He compares Evangeline to a girl he once knew, a girl he calls “Jacks’s first fox.” After waking, Evangeline begins to suspect Jacks might actually be the Archer and further roams the inn until she finds Aurora’s diary. The diary confirms Aurora did not love her betrothed Vengeance Slaugtherwood and reveals that the boy Aurora was in love with – Lyric Merrywood, according to Jacks – was also LaLa’s brother. This calls up further questions about LaLa’s desire to open the arch. Chaos’s reason, the helm, seems clear; Jacks only wants the stones, not access to the arch; LaLa cursed Apollo to manipulate Evangeline in opening the arch, but why? Before she comes to any conclusion, the door to the dining hall slams open and reveals a gravely wounded Jacks, gold and red blood spreading on his clothes.
He refuses to tell her what happened and insists he will heal shortly, and indeed he does. He pulls her into his bed instead, murmuring she won’t remember anyway, and melts away her resistance with words and his touch. Evangeline gives in to her growing feelings.
That night, she dreams of the Handsome Stranger again, who feels so familiar but just outside the reach of her memory, and he is joined by LaLa, who wants to apologize for cursing Apollo and reveals she stabbed Jacks. She was angry because he does not approve of her current engagement to a Slaughterwood – which Evangeline now understands is because LaLa was a Merrywood and sister to Lyric Merrywood once, and her family was murdered by a Slaughterwood. Evangeline tries to get her to tell the truth about her desire to open the arch. LaLa says her words will be twisted because of the story curse but tries telling Evangeline a story to explain: LaLa once loved a shifter who could turn into a dragon. He is the reason she is the Unwed Bride – she turns down all others because she can’t let go of her first love. Evangeline guesses he is what she wants behind the arch. They reconcile, and LaLa starts to warn Evangeline to stay away from Jacks, that she is not safe with him because he has the mirth stone and is clouding her judgment with it. Then she disappears as well.
When Evangeline wakes up, she finds the mirth stone in the magical clock at the heart of the inn, clouding the minds of everyone who enters, including hers and Jacks’s. Although it hurts to give up the peace and happiness she feels here with Jacks, she realizes it’s not real and shoves the stone into an iron box, cutting off its influence on them.
Part III – A Murder of Monsters
Immediately, the inn dies, and Jacks’s feelings for her cool. He wants to leave right away now that they have the youth stone, the truth stone, and the mirth stone between them, the fourth being with Chaos. Hurting but resolved, Evangeline takes Aurora’s diary with her. She tries to ask Jacks what the stones do when they are combined, but he dodges the question. As they arrive at Chaos’s castle, Jacks tells her Apollo was brought here after the whipping but that she must not go to him because he will still try to kill her. In her room, Evangeline briefly takes the mirth stone out to relieve the emotional pain she’s feeling but puts it away again when Apollo enters her room. At first, he seems in control and almost tender, but then he suddenly rushes her and starts to choke her. She narrowly escapes and manages to constrain him, and afterward, she seeks comfort with Jacks, and they share a heated moment before he goes cold again and steps away. He finally tells her what the stones can do: they can allow a person to go back to a moment in their past. Jacks intends to use them to go back to the moment he met Donatella, the first girl who was immune to his lethal kiss and made his heartbeat. She was supposed to be his true love, but chose another and stabbed him in the heart. Evangeline vehemently protests against this plan, but Jacks says her opinion is irrelevant and repeats she won’t remember any of this. When he goes back in time, all of her time spent with Jacks will no longer exist. She will be married to Apollo but will not remember Jacks and although he will remember her, he intends to make sure their paths will never cross again. Evangeline objects again, but he grabs her shoulders and intently tells her he will not – because if he does not get away from her, he will eventually kill her like he killed the Fox.
Evangeline finally, truly knows, then: Jacks is the Archer. But what if the arch holds the key to breaking that original Archer’s curse, too? And can he not see she is not that fox? Jacks argues back bitterly, finally unveiling the ending to the Ballad of the Acher and the Fox, that he tried to leave the fox, unsure if his feelings were real or just the curse’s effect, and that the fox had chased him, sure his love for her would fight the curse. That he had kissed her, then, and the kiss killed her. It killed every girl since, except for Donatella, making Donatella Jacks’s only chance at love.
Before Evangeline knows it, Chaos arrives and announces it is time to open the arch and let Jacks use the stones. Evangeline tries to get Chaos to change Jacks’s mind, but he, too, thinks it’s best for Jacks to let her go. As they travel to Wolf Hall and the arch, Evangeline realizes Chaos, with his cursed helmet, is the monster the Valors created that the old scandal sheet article wrote about, the monster that bit out throats. Chaos confirms this but assures her he has not been a monster for a long time and just wants to remove the helm. When they get to the arch, they put in the stones without Jacks, and Evangeline touches her bloodied hand to the arch and finally slowly opens it. Behind it is a thick wooden door. As he opens it, Chaos slides off a lock of Evangeline’s pink hair, claiming to need it to break her and Apollo’s curse, thanks her, and steps through. Evangeline follows the sound of Chaos’s footsteps and watches as he kneels beside a row of people lying on the ground. One she recognizes from a portrait as Aurora Valor, and she realizes the women and man next to her are Honora and Wolfric Valor and that all this time, locked behind the arch, was both a treasure and a prison, locking away the most valuable thing the Valors had: themselves. Honora wakes and rises and addresses Chaos as Castor, embracing him as he calls her Mother. More pieces fall into place for Evangeline as she sees Castor did not die in the Slaughterwood attack on House Merrywood and that the Valor family had not created a monster to avenge his death – Castor had become the monster.
In that same moment, Evangeline realizes how she can save Jacks. She simply needs to tell him she loves him. If she tells him she loves him, he might be willing to try instead of going back to Donatella, and perhaps Honora will be able to reverse not only Apollo’s curse but Jacks’s, too. Just as she turns around to find him, Honora breaks the helm on Chaos’s head, and Evangeline sees his face, that of the Handsome Stranger. He spots her, introduces her to his mother, and charmingly kisses her hand in gratitude – before he closes his fangs around her throat. Evangeline feels her blood and life drain away as he drinks deeply. Jacks appears, and as she lies in his arms, trying to tell him she loves him, she dies.
How did The Ballad of Never After end?
The story ends with a scream. With the story curse itself watching, Jacks screams in the sort of pain witnessed only once a century. He cries bloody tears as Chaos apologizes and, stalks away, and begs the Valor queen to revive Evangeline. She refuses, telling him she will not use that type of magic ever again after using it to bring back Castor, only to see him become such a terrible creature. Jacks gets up, gathers Evangeline to him, and walks out through the arch. He starts removing the stones while the queen warns him he cannot use them infinitely. He will go back once, he tells her, to stop Chaos from killing her. Time will demand something back of equal value, the queen further cautions him, but Jacks assures her nothing is worth as much to him as Evangeline is.
The story then reverts back to the moment Chaos comes for Evangeline to open the arch. The same events unfold, though Evangeline feels it is all familiar to her. As they open the arch and Chaos takes that lock of hair to take inside, Jacks suggests she should leave. He acts coldly towards her, but when she pushes back and demands to know why he is being cruel, he breaks and shouts at her to leave so Chaos cannot try to feed on her. Evangeline begs him to leave with her, but he insists this does not change the fact that they cannot be together. Crying, Evangeline starts to leave but turns back around once she realizes she can save Jacks. She needs to tell him she loves him before he can use the stones, and she forgets everything. When she gets back to the arch, there is gold-flecked blood splattered across it, and she fears for Jacks’s life. Before she can panic, however, Apollo steps through and tells her the curse on him has been broken. He will not hear of her worries about Jacks, proclaiming Jacks cannot be trusted as he is the one who put both of them in such danger. He suddenly grabs her, holding her still, and presses his fingers against her head. One by one, he starts removing her memories while Evangeline fights and begs and cries – until she no longer knows why she is fighting or begging or crying, and her entire mind turns blank.
When she wakes, her strong, handsome husband is beside her. She doesn’t know who he is, but he soothes her, holds her close, and assures her all is well, she is safe, he is here, and he will never let her go.
There you go! That’s what happened in The Ballad of Never After by Stephanie Garber. We hope you enjoyed this The Ballad of Never After summary with spoilers.
Special thanks to Joyce den Bak for providing this recap! Follow on Instagram @bookish.joyce!
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