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, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost 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 no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.
You might think, having read the blurb, that you know how this story is going to go. You only have the slightest inkling. The power of Naomi Novik’s story telling is in taking what might start off simple and obvious, and weaving an entire world out of it. With countries at war, death in the woods and a remote yet powerful sorcerer, it is obvious that our simple village girl will hold the key. But how that story will unfold is something you won’t guess.
It’s brutal in places, grim and unpleasant as befits tales of war, but there are also moments of fun, redemption, and love sprinkled throughout, and I loved every minute of it.
I’ve read (some of) the Temeraire books and they are majestic, but felt to me a little more remote. This feels a more personal tale, and Agnieszka is someone I would love to take a walk through the forest with, to explore her lands and see them as only she does. If you enjoy fantasy, this is a marvellous marvellous tale, and I highly recommend it.
(Oh, and if you love pretty books, the hardback is particularly gorgeous with shiny bits, as I hope you can see in the picture above.)