Rating: 4/5 stars
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.
Every ten years in the valley village of Dvernik a seventeen year old girl, born between one October and the next, is taken by the Dragon, the local wizard, to live with him in his castle where they are not seen again until they return home ten years later and then usualy leave the village for good. These girls are called Dragon-born girls. Agnieszka is one of these young women. Her father is a wood cutter and she has three older brothers. The entire village believes her good friend, Kasia, will be the chosen one. Kasia is the prettiest and most capable of all the village girls. When the Dragon appears everyone is shocked when it is Agnieszka who is taken instead.
Agnieszka is left to her own devices when she arrives at the castle with no instructions or guidance about what is expected of her. As a result she ends up annoying the Dragon with all of her mistakes. Agnieszka does eventually find her way and surprises herself as well as the Dragon (whose actual name is Sarkan) with her own unrealized strengths and talents.
There is a very strong Beauty-and-the-Beast-like theme running through the story. The ending is quite different although magic plays a part in both stories. This book is very magical and has the feeling of an adult fairy tale.
Agnieszka is a very likable heroine. She is tough, curious, and compassionate. She finds an inner-strength as a result of her experience with Sarkan that she would never have realized if she was never taken. This is a stand alone story. While the ending became a little convoluted for me, I would love to read more about Agnieszka and what else lies ahead for her.