In a world that sounds remarkably like Eastern Europe a number of centuries ago, seventeen year old Agnieszka knows she’ll be losing her best friend, Kasia, soon. Kasia is smart, beautiful, and moves with grace. Agnieszka is clumsy, always manages to get dirty, breaks things, can’t cook or sew worth a darn, and manages to muck everything up- although she does have a knack for negotiating the forest without harm and always comes back with something, be it mushrooms, fruit, firewood, or herbs. This is the year of the Choosing, when the local wizard known as the Dragon chooses a seventeen year old girl to take to his tower. She will not be seen again for ten years. The girls, who claim he never molests them (and they are never believed), never stay in the valley after they return and do not speak of what happened to them. It’s important to keep the Dragon happy, because his magic is all that stands between the area and the Wood. Something evil and greedy lives in the forest- IS the forest- and it always seeks to expand its territory.
To her surprise, Agnieszka is picked. She goes to live in the tower- and is surprised to discover that the Dragon is trying to teach her magic. She has a unique natural talent, linked to the earth, and how it is expressed creates problems between her and the Dragon. She has reason to need this new power soon, as warring kingdoms and the Wood create havoc.
I loved this book. I really liked Agnieszka- I can very much identify with a heroine who constantly gets dirty and rips her clothing! The way her magic worked had a very authentic ring to it. The snippy, sarcastic Dragon is kind of an ass at first, but he grew on me a lot. The Wood is a unique menace and very well done; I found it quite creepy. The style is rather like that of a fairy tale- one of the darker ones. There are battles, possessions, assassinations, perilous escapes, horrors, and good things. The ending, when the Wood is revealed and dealt with, surprised me. I could not put this book down- it’s over 400 pages and I read it in two days.
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