Book cover
The descriptions of the country, fashions and even the names of characters channels Poland of the 1500s or 1600s.  The story focuses on a peaceful valley with little villages nestled along the Spindle river, but a dark forest grows nearby.  Corrupted creatures come from the forest late at night and attack human, livestock or both.  Or worse, a cloud of pollen might come in and corrupt a neighbor where they stand, turning them.

With leave of the king, the wizard named Dragon rules the valley and lives at the head of the valley.  The Dragon protects the villages from the forest, but is also feared more than appreciated as once every ten years, the Dragon demands his pick of a lady born in the valley from October to October and is in her 17th year.  The previous woman is released, and goes home, but doesn't belong anymore, and ends up moving to a city.

Agnieszka { ag-NYESH-kah } and Kasia are friends who live in the village called Dvernik, one town in from the edge of the valley where the evil forest looms.  They both have spent their lives knowing they were born in the year that the Dragon would pick from.  From one end of the valley to the other, though, Kasia is the prettiest, and everyone assumes the Dragon will choose to take her back to his tower.

2015 Nebula Award winner for best novel.

It has been such a huge pleasure reading this novel.  There are two characters who both do magic together throughout this book, and the relationship is like a cook who doesn't understand the precision of baking and baker who has never known or understood cooking.  They both get magic done, but they are both frustrated by the way they each get there.  The relationship between the two is amusing in its absolute believability.

The writing is engaging and descriptive, without bogging down in needless detail or needlessly skipping detail for a quick turn.  It is also a stand-alone story that has both a climax and a resolution (I've read so many books without a resolution lately that this basic building block of story-telling is actually note-worthy).  The build-up I describe above is all covered within the first half of the first chapter, which is to say - there's a lot going on in this story and the pacing is brisk.

Unless the description above sounds like misery to you, then chances are you will love this book.  I highly recommend it.

Del Rey imprint of Penguin Random House
Released: 19 May 2015
Paperback, 464 pages