The Year is set in a fantasy world several years after the end of its domination by commercial tourism from our world. The University formerly produced large numbers of competent wizards who served as tour guides; current staff aims to produce competent wizards who gradually repair the damage caused by tours. It suffers financially because tuition demand is down, which greatly concerns the faculty, and educationally from its long practical focus, which barely concerns the few who have noticed. The head, wizard Corkoran, is obsessed with becoming the first man to visit the moon and devotes much time to that, but there is little research or innovation generally. The senior wizards have all retired; the middle-age and young know of no other way.
Wizard Corkoran has selected children from wealthy families to fill his own first-year tutorial, hoping that a current appeal for donations will be fruitful. His class turns out to be unusual in other respects too. All six are talented, some in ways they do not yet understand, some encumbered by jinxes. Not one of the families is likely to donate because they have status rather than money, or their fortunes have recently slumped, or their children are here with grudging permission or none. Prince Lukin's father has not permitted him to be at the University, and his kingdom is also very poor; Ruskin is an escaped artisan dwarf, which is the third lowest and here to receive an education so the unjust ranking system can be overthrown; Felim ben Felim is a member of the royal family of Ampersand, whose Emir has vowed to send assasins if he is to attend; and Claudia, the half-sister of Emperor Titus, is here partially hiding from the Senate, who despise her for being half Marsh. Evidently, only one is personally wealthy, the beautiful Olga who does not divulge her name or even her region. Elda is the youngest daughter of Derk, the final Dark Lord before the revolution and head of a most important family now. But she is a griffin, appearing at first glance to be frightening and inscrutable, and her father does not approve of university education.
The classmates quickly become fast friends, and two soon fall in love. They form common opinions of their teachers and courses, and undertake together some undirected extracurricular study. They all run afoul of Wizard Wermacht, a domineering man who teaches multiple subjects in a routine fashion. When Derk visits Elda, he has half a mind to take her home, but actually gives them a reading list strong in magical theory, especially the work of university founder Policant. Educationally that is a success although it does not help their grades.
Every other visit from home is a crisis for the classmates and often for the entire university. From the east a royal family sends seven assassins. Two Imperial Senators and a cluster of ruling class dwarves bring political and economic pressures. Olga's father proves to be the pirate of the Inland Sea. Two royalties arrive leading armies. Prince Lukin trades Ruskin to be his "servant" for the Book of Truth, which Olga had stolen from her father when she fled from an arranged marriage, and from which lies disappear. The Senators are arrested by Emperor Titus.
Eventually, the three more powerful and mature of Elda's six siblings get involved, human brother Blade and griffins Kit and Callette. Chancellor Querida also returns, the former University head who plotted successfully against the tourist industry. Jointly with a few others they secure the University and set it on the right track.