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.
3 / 5
Not as much romance as I wanted but I did appreciate the strong theme of friendship running though the story.
After reading the description I was hoping for a fun romance between Agnieszka and Sarkan and it did start out that way with lots of mystery from Sarkan and sarkiness from Agnieszka. But just as I was starting to enjoy the interactions between them and it looked like things were heating up the romance side of the story is just ditched when Agnieszka leaves for the capital.
I loved the first half of the book – it starts out with a lot of banter between them and Agnieszka is struggling with learning the magic basics. You can really see the Beauty and the Beast influence here and it’s fun watching the balance of power between them change as Agnieszka finds her strength in her abilities and her confidence grows.
After the halfway point Agnieszka started to irritate me with her amazing abilities that appear just when she needs them and her lucky escapes. Then Sarkan disappears from the story altogether just as we start to get to know him and the spark and the contrast between that made the story so lively is gone.
The story gets more exciting but it doesn’t feel like anything special. It feels like I’ve seen this story over and over again recently. A young woman is looked down upon and treated like she is a second class citizen but finds that her abilities are super special and she starts to outshine and outwit everyone around her.
What I did appreciate is the way Agnieszka’s confidence grows and she becomes much more sure in herself and her abilities, though it eventually goes too far with this. She forges her own path and isn’t afraid to go against the popular appearance. She is the hero of the story and the removal of Sarkan makes this clear. By the end though she is so amazing and so fantastic and kind and wonderful that it gets a bit grating.
Friendship is a strong theme running through the book, Agnieszka and Kasia are the real stars of the story, I think this should have been the focus all the way through, adding a romance into the story just took away from this. Kasia and Sarkan are never fully realised, dropped in and out when it suits the story and it would have been nice to get to know at least one of them in-depth, and maybe see their side of the story.
The writing is beautifully done though, by far the best thing about the book. And to be fair, Agnieszka was always just the right side of too irritating to live. The way she was written made her more enduring than annoying, but only just.
I expected more after all the hype about it, but it’s an enjoyable coming of age adventure story and it’s very well written.