This had been on my to-read list for quite a while thanks to many glowing Cannonball Read reviews. I actually bought a copy of it for my sister for Christmas and I tried not to let my foot tap too loudly as I waited for her to finish it. It was worth the wait.
As a kid, one of my favorite book series was Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy. I liked the way it pulled me into another world, so different from my own, but so vivid—filed with magic and mistakes, friendship and hatred. Novik’s book worked a similar magic on me and I found myself immersed in Agnieszka’s world—her small valley town too close to an evil Wood whose malevolent designs are barely kept at bay by a powerful wizard, The Dragon.
The Dragon’s work for the community comes with a catch—every ten years a young woman must be sent to him to “serve him without question.” Though Agnieszka is quick to tell us that the Dragon doesn’t devour or deflower the girl chosen, the result is almost worse. After ten years, the girl is so changed by the experience that she leaves the valley behind. Luckily, Agnieszka is not worried about this fate because she and the rest of the village are sure that the girl who will be chosen is Agnieszka’s best friend, Kasia. Kasia is blonde, beautiful, and brave and seems the natural choice since the Dragon picks girls that are special and talented. Agnieszka’s only talent seems to be ruining her clothes—always ripping or staining them as she wanders about the fields.
When the dragon picks Agnieszka, no one is more surprised than she is but that’s where the story begins. As you might expect, our heroine has gifts but they are truly her own and that’s one of the things I liked about this book. I also liked how the plot took its sweet time, slowly revealing things about all the characters that were worth the wait. There is girl power and court intrigue and a great take on how magic works all wrapped with ribbons of Slavic myth. There is indeed a love story but the best thing is that there’s not just one—this story explores the love between friends, between mother and child, and between an individual and their community. This was one of those books that was hard to leave behind, even after I finished the last page. Thanks to all the CBR folks who suggested this and I’m sorry I waited so long to read it.