Agnieszka is the daughter of a woodcutter, living in a quiet village in a peaceful valley--bounded by a menacing Wood where dark forces lurk. The Dragon, a cold and remote wizard, is their valley's defense against the Wood, but there is a price: every ten years, he chooses one seventeen-year-old girl to serve him for the next ten years. The girls emerge from the tower at the end of their service seemingly unharmed, but changed. They don't stay in the valley; they take the dowry the Dragon gives them and move elsewhere. Admittedly to prosperous, successful lives, but leaving the valley seems unimaginable.
Agnieszka and her best friend, Kasia, are "Dragon-born," i.e., seventeen years old in the year the Dragon will next claim a new servant. Everyone knows that that new servant will be Kasia. Kasia is everything the Dragon looks for--beautiful, clever, kind, and brave. Agnieszka dreads losing her friend forever.
But when the day comes, it's not Kasia the Dragon takes away to his tower; it's Agnieszka. Grumpily, reluctantly, he announces that he "had better" take Agnieszka.
Because the Dragon does not explain anything, it's quite a while before she begins to understand why the Dragon decided he "had better" take her rather than Kasia.
Agnieszka has embarked, unknowingly, on an adventure that will take both her and Kasia to the Wood, to the capital, and on a journey of self-discovery that holds the potential to bring salvation or destruction on everything she loves.
Once I started Uprooted, I couldn't stop till I was done. Agnieszka is stubborn, argumentative, kind, and loyal. The Dragon is slowly revealed as a complicated, difficult character, with real strengths and real flaws. Kasia, too, is much more than the rather simplistic role everyone had unconsciously assigned her. Even Prince Marek, who in a superficial reading is assigned a "bad guy" role, is a good deal more layered than that simple role, brave, egotistical, seeing through manipulative scheming, ambitious, rebuking a lord for imposing too-high taxes rather than punishing the peasant who stole a sheep because of the burden of those taxes. Right to the end, I had real doubt about how Marek would turn out--and how he turned out remained complicated.
I want to say lots more about Agnieszka here, what she learns, what she accomplishes, and her complex, layered relationship with the Dragon, but every time I try I wind up deleting it as too spoiler-y. Read the book! Get to know her!
This book is a Hugo finalist this year, and it thoroughly deserves to be. Highly recommended.
I bought this book.