Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.
The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.
It took me a couple chapters to get into this one. The writing style is a little different than most of what I read, so there was a bit of an adjustment period for me. But once I was somewhere around chapter three, I really started to enjoy the book.
The Dragon (Sarkan) starts off as a wholly unlikeable curmudgeon, with zero patience and a condescending temper that was incredibly infuriating. But as Agnieszka interacts with him more and more, he begins to open up and feel more like a person and less like someone to fear. I started to like him in spite of myself, and he was ultimately my favorite character by the end of the book.
I loved the portrayal of the Wood in this story as well. It gave a new meaning to “forbidden forest,” and the variety of creatures and attacks the Wood employed were both fascinating and horrifying. It was really well done.
The magic system was interesting, if a bit confusing at times. There was a disconnect between Sarkan and Agnieszka at first; he was used to a rigid set of rules to craft spells, whereas she sometimes just muddled her way through to the same result. He was baffled by her use of magic, and she was never able to get his methods to work. I liked the dynamic there, but I felt she learned everything too quick. One day, she couldn’t hold together a spell, and in the next chapter she’s able to perform a complex and lengthy one. The rapidity didn’t make sense to me.
But overall, I really liked this book. I’d recommend it to those who enjoy fantasy with a fairy tale feel.