After seeing Naomi Novik's newest, UPROOTED, recommended a couple of different places, by people whose judgment I trust, I promptly ordered it. And I'm so glad I did! It was a wonderful novel: rich, warm, deeply-rooted in the best kind of folklore. It felt familiar and new all at once, set in a world vaguely recognizable as Poland (here: Polnya) with magic.
Agnieszka has grown up in the shadow of the Dragon, the reclusive wizard that protects her valley from the Wood. Every ten years, he selects a village girl from the valley to come back to his tower. No one knows exactly what he wants them for (though of course there's gossip), but after ten years when he releases the girls, they never come home again. Oh, they might visit, but they're unalterably changed. Agnieszka belongs to the cohort of girls from whom the Dragon will chose his next girl, but everyone knows he's going to choose her best friend, the best and brightest and prettiest of the girls. Imagine her surprise, then, when the Dragon chooses her.
Her surprise deepens when she discovers, in the Dragon's tower, a latent talent for magic. A talent that might just be called upon to save not only her beloved valley but the kingdom itself from the encroaching evil of the Wood.
I think one of the things I loved about the story is that the hook here isn't huge: it's not some end of the world, wizards pitted to the death kind of scenario. But it's no less compelling and fast-paced for all that. The wood is a very real menace: the kind of thing nightmares are made of. (And the ultimate secret of the wood is startling and wonderful).
I loved Agnieszka. I loved the Dragon. (And I'm nerd enough to feel chuffed that I figured out the source for the Dragon's name: he goes by Sarkan, a variation of sarkany, a Hungarian shape-shifting dragon--a minor bit of trivia I would not have known except I've recently been immersed in Hungarian folklore for bookish purposes. Novik graciously confirmed my guess on Twitter). Their unfolding relationship is sweet and spiky and charming.
This book isn't for everyone--there are a couple of adultish scenes that make it inappropriate for young teens. But I loved it.