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Literature / Uprooted

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"Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful."

Agnieszka lives at the edge of the Wood, which as the quote above suggests is not the safest place. Her village, and others at the edge of the Wood, are protected by The Dragon, a wizard who - every ten years - picks a girl to serve him for the next ten years. They're sent back with money for their dowries, but none ever stay in the villages after.

This year, everyone is sure Agnieszka's best friend Kasia is going to be picked. However, considering that Agnieszka is the Narrator... you can see where this is going.

The book is written by Naomi Novik, who is more famous for the long-running Temeraire series. Unlike that, this book is a standalone.

Ellen DeGeneres has purchased the rights to produce a feature-film adaptation. Naomi Novik has since written and published a Spiritual Successor, Spinning Silver which does not share a setting but does share theme and tone with Uprooted, this time tackling Rumpelstiltskin.


This book provides examples of:

  • The Ace: Kasia is introduced as one, seemingly to prove a counterpart for the clumsy Agnieszka, because she's the prettiest, bravest, nicest girl in the whole village.
  • Achievements in Ignorance: This seems to be Agnieszka's hallmark. She uses a healing spell that the Dragon had long deemed useless to save him, does magic the way that "feels right" to great result, rescues Kasia from the Wood despite the supposed impossibility of doing so—and in the process reveals many facts about magic and the Wood that hadn't been known because all efforts were focused on containment.
  • Aerith and Bob: While most Polnyan names are taken directly from Polish (Kasia, Agnieszka, Marek), Sarkan stands out as completely made up.
  • Alchemy Is Magic: Potion-brewing requires magical talent, expensive components, and lots of time, but is invaluable for creating powerful magical effects in a storable, accessible form. Agnieszka's first brush with alchemy is a bottle of mist that leaves her Taken for Granite; the infamous Fire Heart potion takes a master wizard ten years to brew but is a Fantastic Nuke in a bottle.
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  • Alpha Bitch: Primarily the young noblewoman who attaches herself to Agnieszka in the capital to mock her in the guise of friendship, but everyone else in her social group too. Agnieszka ends up feeling sorry for her—she's horrible, but she was raised that way and lives surrounded by people who turn on her the instant someone comes up with an interesting humiliation.
  • And I Must Scream: People who are put into heart trees are fully aware and in horrific torment every moment of their imprisonment.
  • Attempted Rape: Prince Marek casually attempts to violate Agnieszka under the assumption he's cuckolding the Dragon. She notes that she might not have been unwilling if he'd asked. Instead, she used the Pimped-Out Dress spell to block him and then beat him half to death with a metal tray.
  • Awful Truth: One effect of The Summoning is to reveal all the secret, shameful feelings and desires of anyone casting it or having it cast on them. Agnieszka and Kasia both get to see the hidden jealousies, resentments, and fleeting hatred against each other, but their love is stronger. The same thing happens later between Krystyna and Jerzy when she uses The Summoning to cleanse him of the corruption.
  • Badass Normal:
    • Marek and his guards display the negative aspects of this, being too cocky and on a mission that arguably shouldn’t be undertaken. They're excellent soldiers but have no personal defense against the supernatural corruption of the Wood.
    • Baron Vladimir and his soldiers defeat a supernatural threat that the Dragon was summoned to help with before he arrives (although admittedly it's a diversion) and later resolutely help fight Marek and his misled army.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Chimerae, and anyone who reads the Bestiary. Like poor Father Ballo.
  • Bedsheet Ladder: A variant. Agnieszka ties together all of her fancy vanastalem dresses to climb down from the tower when she sees Dvernik's distress beacon is burning.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: The Dragon and Agnieszka get on each other's nerves in every possible way, but become close to each other in a way that neither of them is used to. They Do resolve it in a Pre-Climax Climax.
  • Big Bad: The Wood. Every single bad thing in the story barring its own creation happens at its design.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The Dragon has a couple of these moments, like saving Agnieszka and Kasia from Wood-corrupted wolves by teleporting into their village. Naturally, he's a rather badass wizard, so...
  • Black Bug Room: People fully corrupted by the Wood have their bodies used as Meat Puppets while their minds are trapped in an unending nightmare of the forest. They can be rescued, but most are Mind Raped into Empty Shells by a week or so of captivity.
  • Broken Pedestal: Agnieszka is in awe of Prince Marek from all the songs and tales of his bravery and benevolence... and then he tries to rape her, simply because he thinks it'll piss off the Dragon.
  • Brutal Honesty: Alosha is very old, very experienced, and dispassionately blunt when talking to Agnieszka — even when saying that she wanted Agnieszka's dearest friend executed to protect The Needs of the Many or telling Agnieszka that she accidentally started a war. She's never cruel or angry about it, so Agnieszka always takes her words to heart.
  • Cassandra Truth: When Agnieszka hears her village is under attack while The Dragon is away and goes to help, Borys and the others she encounters and asks for transportation initially don’t believe her claims of having learned magic and think she’s just trying to run away from the Dragon until she gives them a demonstration.
  • Cast from Stamina: Magic is tiring to use. At the beginning, casting one minor cantrip leaves Agnieszka too drained to walk, but she develops huge reserves of strength and learns to cast more efficiently as she trains. When she tries to cast when completely drained, she has a Power-Strain Blackout and is later warned that she could have killed herself.
  • Cool Sword: Alosha smiths magical weapons. Her killing blade not only can cut about anything, but the magic in it drinks the life of whoever's unlucky enough to be at the sharp end of it. She created it to kill the Queen of the Wood. It almost works.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Agnieszka is forced to leave her childhood village and fantasies behind and faces challenges as a burgeoning adult and a witch, the latter of which she never even expected to become.
  • The Corruption: The Wood causes this with anyone it touches. Even breathing the air under its branches is enough to twist someone into a malevolent monster, and immediate action is needed to purge them of the taint.
  • Court Mage: Wizards are required to register in the royal court of Polya and are de facto nobility. Those who remain in court advise the king on magical matters and include an Ultimate Blacksmith, a scholarly bishop, and a healer. Best exemplified by the Falcon, who's a politically active socialite and constant companion to Prince Marek.
  • Cursed With Awesome: Kasia is turned into a living wood statue by the Wood. It gives her Super Toughness and Strength, which proves very useful in her adventures with Agnieszka. It ruins her marriage prospects in Dvernik, but by the end of the book, she's captain of the Royal Guard and has received marriage proposals from Amazon Chaser nobles and the Falcon.
  • David Versus Goliath: Marek does battle with Kasia at one point. The question of who is David remains open even after the fact.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The Dragon is far and away the snarkiest character in the book, mostly as he is Surrounded by Idiots a lot and hides behind a Jerkass facade.
  • Death World: The Wood is a small-scale version. Living near it is dangerous, and actually wandering into it without considerable magical protection means death at best.
  • Deadly Book: The Bestiary changes people who read it too intently into what it describes.
  • Defector from Decadence: Sarkan the Dragon was entirely entangled in the shallow intrigues of the court until his meeting with, and the subsequent death of, the witch Raven. After, he realised what a threat the Wood truly was and took up the role of protector of the valley.
  • Defensive Feint Trap: The Wood retaliates this way when it comes up against an unexpectedly strong foe (i.e. Agnieszka and the Dragon). Despite the massive casualties of the expedition, it allows them to take what's left of Hanna's body and uses it to ravage Polnya's government.
  • Divide and Conquer: Polnya and Rosya would be much better off if they stopped fighting and combined their forces against their mutual enemy, the Wood... so the Wood does subtle things to keep the conflict fresh. Having a Rosyan prince abduct Queen Hanna was the first move in its very long game.
  • Don't Go in the Woods: Doing so is a sure way to get killed or corrupted. Unfortunately for the people of the Valley, the Wood is eager to go to them.
  • The Driver: Local horse breeder Borys (whose daughter is among the girls the Dragon passes over) often provides transportation for Agnieszka when she travels through the valley, with her coming to trust him and inquire about his family.
  • Dwindling Party: Most of those brought alone on the expedition to rescue Queen Hanna do not last long.
  • Dying Race: The wood-people. The queen married a human king in hopes of revitalizing her race through their half-human, half-treeperson children. This failed badly.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: By the end, the Wood has (directly or indirectly) killed nearly every member of Polnya's standing army, most of the royal family, and several other characters, tortured Kasia and transformed her body, threaded corruption through the capital city, and put everyone through plenty of pain and horror, but Agnieszka and Sarkan's efforts also finally pay off: the driving force behind the Wood's malice is put to rest (though the corruption is still too deeply embedded in the land to be rid of in a day). Agnieszka finds her place in the world, Kasia can begin to search for hers, Polnya still has a good king, the rift between Polnya and Rosya is beginning to heal, Sarkan is finally ready to start learning how to people, the valley's inhabitants can continue their lives without the Wood's shadow hanging over them, the heart-trees are being purified, and the Dragon will never need to take another girl from the valley.
  • Empty Shell: The Queen of Polnya is a Double Subversion; she's catatonic after her rescue, comes awake to defend her son, and is finally exposed as a Meat Puppet of the Wood Queen. After twenty years in a heart tree, there is nothing left of her to show corruption, allowing the spirit of the Wood to use her body without detection.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Prince Marek tries to seduce and then rape Agnieszka in his first appearance, simply to try to insult the Dragon. This establishes him as someone who's superficially charming, but utterly self-centered and indifferent to other people's well-being.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Prince Marek desperately wants to see his mother again... by any means necessary.
  • Evil Only Has to Win Once: The Wood spreads dozens of seeds of malice, which the wizards have to counter one at a time.
  • Fake Memories: The Dragon removes Marek's memory of trying to rape Agnieszka and being beaten unconscious, but needs to replace it with something that won't motivate him to Pull the Thread. To Agnieszka's annoyance, he gives Marek a memory of consensual, really bad sex.
  • Fantastic Racism: Implied as one of the root causes of the Wood's birth. Most of the humans from the tower's time didn't much care for their tree-people neighbors. As soon as the tower king died, his former subjects jumped on the chance to drive his wife's people to extinction.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Kasia explicitly refers to being taken by the Wood as this — the victim suffers an endless, inescapable nightmare while their body is assimilated.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Polnya for Poland, Rosya for Russia. Namib for Namibia, judging by the name and Alosha's skin color. Alosha also mentions she has relatives in "Venezia", but that doesn't qualify as a "counterpart" because it's the actual Italian name for "Venice".
  • Freudian Excuse: Marek is a very nasty individual, but he never got over his mother being lost to the Wood when he was a boy.
  • Genius Loci: The Wood is intelligent, aware (albeit to a varying degree) of anything that happens within it, and utterly hateful.
  • Gentleman Wizard: The Dragon is effectively a feudal lord over the Valley; while he's transparently indifferent to the villagers as people, he's completely dedicated to his responsibilities. It's later revealed that all listed wizards are de facto nobility by definition.
  • Gorgeous Garment Generation: The vanastalem spell creates opulent clothing and jewellery, although it can be purposely miscast to produce more common clothes instead. It becomes very useful.
  • Harmful to Minors: The royal children go through a major Trauma Conga Line with their parents being killed and their uncle mounting a horrifically destructive campaign to "rescue" them from Agnieszka.
  • Harmony Versus Discipline: Agnieszka and the Dragon drive each other crazy at first because their magical techniques are polar opposites — Agnieszka treats it as a living, changing thing and improvises most of her spells, while the Dragon treats it as a Fantastic Science with rigorous empirical observation. They learn to combine their magic into a Yin-Yang Bomb.
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power: A spell that creates beautiful clothing may not seem very impressive, but it turns out it can be used to create Bedsheet Ladders, impress people, generate wealth, and even protect against attempted rape. It can even put “beauty” on someone’s soul to heal emotional trauma.
  • Heel Realization: Sarkan is horrified when using The Summoning on Kasia and conversing with Agnieszka afterwards reveal to him that the whole valley thinks he mercilessly rapes and abuses the girls he takes in his tower.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Old Hanks, the only Dvernik villager to Stand Your Ground and fight the corrupted cattle, armed with just a broken rake, simply says she’s too sour to die when people try to compliment her afterwards.
  • I Have Your Wife: Marek forces Dragon and Agnieszka to help his ill-advised mission to retrieve Queen Hanna from the Wood by threatening to have Kasia immediately executed if they don't.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: The Summoning reveals Kasia secretly resented her supposed fate of being taken by the Dragon and envied Agnieszka's loving family. Still, when the magician decides to not pick her, she's left floundering as she doesn't know how to be normal.
  • Immortality Begins at Twenty: Wizards don't strictly live forever, but they do live for centuries with their only apparent age being in their eyes. Alosha says that Ballo lived in a monastery for forty years before he noticed he wasn't aging.
  • Infant Immortality: Downplayed, but children are more likely to escape The Wood in Agnieszka's stories about its power, like her friend Trina whom The Dragon managed to heal, or a few children from Porosna whom The Raven managed to teleport to the next town right before the village was swallowed.
  • Insufferable Genius: The Dragon is a tremendously powerful, experienced, and well-read wizard, and makes sure people know it. Most of his early relationship with Agnieszka consists of him berating her for her supposed stupidity, even though she's an Instant Expert by wizard standards.
  • Iron Lady: Alosha, a swordswoman and blacksmith who forges magic weapons for Polyna, and the most level-headed mage in the capital—she is savvy to the political games but doesn't invest herself in them like the others. She's probably the most sensible person in the story, but also brutally pragmatic and she firmly believes that Kasia should have been killed long before now.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The Dragon is introduced first as a cold-hearted lord over the Valley, then as an Insufferable Genius, and finally as a man with a deep sense of responsibility for the Valley peoples, who comes to care sincerely for Agnieszka.
  • Karma Houdini: In his short-sighted scheming, Solya joins Marek's assault on Dragon's tower. It pits one half of Polnya's standing army against the other half and shatters the whole, with over 6,000 dead. It's pointed out that Solya's actions were entirely voluntary, not corruption, but he still limps back home to the capital with no punishment after briefly helping Agnieszka and Dragon in the aftermath.
  • Kill All Humans: The Wood is implacably driven to kill, assimilate, or corrupt every human it can reach. The humans sort of started it when they drove the Wood-Queen mad with grief and hatred.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Wood and its creatures are highly resistant to most weapons, but can be destroyed by fire. The Dragon and the Valley people burn its border and Salt the Earth every year to keep it back.
  • Language of Magic: Magic is worked through speaking various words and can be altered through mispronunciations. As an example, the first spell Agnieszka learns, when enunciated painstakingly clearly, will create or put you in a Pimped-Out Dress, but spoken hastily/slurred will create/put you in sensible clothes or even rags.
  • Last of His Kind: The Wood-queen's people all turned themselves into trees while she was entombed. She didn't take it well when she finally broke out and learned.
  • Limited-Use Magical Device: Alosha's greatest weapon against the Wood is a sword that will utterly consume the life of whatever it strikes, then disintegrate. The Wood-Queen's spirit escapes her Meat Puppet before the sword can finish killing her, forcing them to use a different strategy.
  • Living Distant Ancestor: Alosha nonchalantly mentions that her fellow wizard Ragostok is one of her 67 great-great-grandchildren, but she looks no older than him and has no particular familiar affection for him.
  • Loose Lips: Agnieszka writes to Kasia's mother Wensa to say that Kasia has been successfully purified of the Wood and adds a postscript not to tell anyone. But the letter is read by a neighbor who is looking after Wensa. And she tells everyone. This leads to Marek riding up to the tower and using the information as leverage on Agnieszka and the Dragon.
  • Mage Tower: The tower that Dragon lives in. It's powerfully magical and is built on the ruins of an older tower from The Precursors.
  • Magical Barefooter: Agnieszka stops wearing shoes when she fully settles into her role as Witch of the Valley. It helps that her nature-based magic makes it entirely safe for her to go barefoot in any terrain.
  • Magic Music: Sort of. Agnieszka often sings her spells to folk melodies.
  • Magic Potion: Potion-brewing requires magical talent, expensive components, and lots of time, but is invaluable for creating powerful magical effects in a storable, accessible form. Agnieszka's first brush with the practice is a bottle of mist that leaves her Taken for Granite; the infamous Fire Heart potion takes a master wizard ten years to brew but is a Fantastic Nuke in a bottle.
  • Meat Puppet: The fate of the Wood's victims. Assuming the Wood doesn't use them to shore up a heart-tree instead.
  • Mauve Shirt:
    • Marek brings thirty elite soldiers with him into the Wood, and several of them are given names or show personality. Two of them survive, and they're not the ones Agnieszka met.
    • Alluded to later when fighting breaks out at the tower. Agnieszka half wants to talk to all of the soldiers, knowing that each one has an individual story that brought them into the uniform, but she feels like it would be self-indulgent.
  • May–December Romance: Dragon has about a century on Agnieszka, but she dismisses this as an excuse. As they're wizard and witch, being left a widow isn't a concern.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Implied for any mage that falls for a non-mage but explicit in the case of Alosha, widowed for 160 years and having about 67 great-great grandchildren she keeps track of.
    "I've had lovers now and then, mostly soldiers. But once you've grown old enough, they're like flowers; you know the bloom will fade even as you put them in the glass."
  • Meaningful Name: The Dragon's name is eventually revealed to be Sarkan; sárkány is Hungarian for, appropriately enough, 'dragon'.
  • Meaningful Rename: At the end of their royal examination, most newly confirmed witches and wizards acquire a "wizard name" - the Dragon, the Splendid, the Willow, etc. - in a brief magical ceremony. It's considered significant that the protagonist's ceremony feels "off" to her, and she remains known as "Agnieszka of Dvernik".
  • The Medic: The Willow is the foremost healer in Polya, with both Healing Hands and decades or centuries of medical knowledge to draw on.
  • Medieval European Fantasy: Specifically it's based around Polish folktales; Baba Jaga is mentioned several times.
  • Mercy Kill: The Dragon gives one to The Raven after a heart tree is planted her chest, then replaces her as lord of the Valley out of duty to her memory.
  • Mutually Exclusive Magic: Some mages make use of mathematically precise incantations while the spells of others are organic affairs that rarely are the exact same thing twice in a row. When they work together the effects can prove far greater than the sum of the parts (Agnieszka describes it as a river driving a waterwheel) but teaching one another or learning from the wrong spellbooks are an exercise in frustration.
  • My Greatest Failure: The Dragon's is his failed attempt to cleanse Duchess Ludmilla's husband of the Wood. Not only did he fail to do it, his obsession with it caused another great mage, the Raven, to die in failed defense of a village and have a heart-tree planted in her. After that he voluntarily took over the tower and the fight with he Wood.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Agnieszka and the Dragon are essentially blackmailed into helping Prince Marek save his mother, Hanna, from a heart-tree; she's been trapped in there for 20 years. There's actually nothing left of Hanna in her body, and bringing her back to the capital allows the Wood to get a foothold in the castle and wreak all kinds of havoc.
  • Noodle Incident: Linaya refuses to talk about what happened the last time her people remembered violence, only that it was so awful that they consider extinction a better option. Considering the circumstances of the Wood's creation, though, we can muster a guess.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Averted. The ancient, vengeful, brilliant consciousness that drove the Wood is at peace; united with her people. The toxic plants and mutant creatures in the Wood? Less aggressive for the most part; and far too many of the Heart Trees created from those dragged off over the centuries have enough pain, rage, and/or madness to remain repositories for The Corruption until either magically coaxed into peaceful dreaming or burned to ash.
  • No Pronunciation Guide: The afterword explains the pronunciation of Agnieszka's name (Ag-nyesh-ka), and familiarity with Polish orthography helps with the rest, but the reader is otherwise left unassisted.
  • No Social Skills: Dragon is devoted to the welfare of the people on his lands, moreso than most nobles would be of peasants, but he doesn't care for them outside of their physical needs. He's also shocked when he learns that everyone assumes he's using the girls he takes as Sex Slaves because of his isolation from society. Not to mention the fact that uses indignation and verbal abuse to disguise any discomfort or awkwardness he might be feeling. A lot.
  • The Not-Love Interest: Kasia fills this role for Agnieszka — they're childhood friends, and a large fraction of the book's plot is about Agnieszka trying to rescue her, first from the Wood, and then from the laws which say that her life is forfeit because she was taken by the Wood.
  • Odd Friendship: Agnieszka and Kasia—the girl who is sure never to be chosen and the girl everyone knows will be chosen—are as close as sisters and love each other as much.
  • Older Than They Look: Wizards live for centuries and show no signs of aging for most of their lives. At 150 years old, the Dragon looks like a man of twenty, except for a disconcerting timelessness in his eyes.
  • Opposites Attract: The Dragon enjoys being a Man of Wealth and Taste who practises Functional Magic and has No Social Skills whatsoever, while Agnieszka is The Pig-Pen wielding Wild Magic and much more amiable. They butt heads a lot before finally acknowledging their feelings.
  • Parents as People: Kasia's mother Wensa. As it became clear from a young age that Kasia was the most likely future pick for the Dragon, Wensa sent Kasia on exhausting walks to other villages to become an expert baker, seamstress, etc, set her to frightening tasks to make her brave, and was careful not to love her because she'd be taken away. This makes things rather brittle when Kasia is not picked, but Wensa is still distraught and goes to the tower to beg Agnieszka's help when Kasia is taken. At the end, Kasia stays with the royal children, and her strained relationship with Wensa is a major reason why.
  • The Pigpen: Agnieszka. No matter how careful she is, her hair and clothes will always get snagged on branches, and she will always get mud or flour or some other kind of smudge on her clothing. She rates her time limit for neatness as twenty minutes. It's because of her magic. Everything around her wants to touch her, especially nature things.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Dragon uses magic to put Agnieszka in one of these every day because he finds her usual messy, homespun appearance offensive, until she finds the pre-existing wardrobe and learns how to use the spell to make more comfortable dresses.
  • Plan B Resolution: When the single use Cool Sword fails to destroy the Wood Queen due to her spirit abandoning her Meat Puppet at the last moment, the heroes are forced to go into the Wood in a last-ditch attempt to defeat her.
  • Please Put Some Clothes On: Agnieszka rips off her dress when the corruption from her trip into the Woods is revealed by a spell. Once it's gone Dragon makes a cloak for her, but she's really more concerned about Kasia than being naked.
  • Poor Communication Kills: At no point during the initial several weeks of insults, chores, and strength-draining mystic rituals did the Dragon tell Agnieszka anything that could be construed as "You are an untrained magician and I am instructing you." Therefore, when she belatedly finds a note from one of her predecessors detailing what to expect (hint: not what she has been dealing with) she comes within moments of trying to assassinate him the next morning.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The heart-trees' corruption comes from the fear and pain of the humans trapped inside them.
  • The Power of Love: Used alongside powerful magic to purify people of the Wood's corruption. Kasia and Jerzy are trapped within their own minds by the corruption, but break free by reaching out to someone for whom they feel strong, mutual love.
  • Power-Strain Blackout: Using magic when their reserves of power are completely drained knocks the wizard unconscious if they're lucky or kills them if they're not.
  • The Precursors: The civilization that built the tower. The building is about all that's left of them, as they were conquered by the Wood long ago. Speculation that they created it proves to be somewhat true.
  • Prince Charmless: Marek is the very physical and outward image of a noble prince, slaying hydras and whatnot and desperate to rescue his mother from the Wood. However, Agnieszka quickly learns that in practice he's a very unpleasant person, Freudian Excuse not withstanding.
  • Princeling Rivalry: Marek isn't too fond of his older brother Sigmund, who Marek describes as a "damned politician". Sigmund himself comes off as the more level-headed of the pair. Marek does show some feeling when Sigmund is killed in battle, however, saying that he didn't want to become heir like this.
  • Puppy Love: At the end of the novel, it's revealed that Crown Prince Stashek has agreed to marry the daughter of the Archduke of Vasha. Not because of the threat of her father starting a rebellion, but because she can spit all the way across a garden plot.
  • Rags to Riches: Being discovered as a mage practically guarantees a career and functionally at least middling noble rank, even if you literally started in the gutter, like Dragon himself. Alosha's mother was a slave who died in childbirth, and Agnieszka is a woodcutter's daughter, albeit not actually destitute.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The Dragon is excellent at these and Agnieszka gets a lot of them when she first comes to the castle, especially thanks to her resentful attitude towards him.
  • Red Baron: Wizards are rare, famous, and politically powerful, and each takes a unique title in the ceremony in which they're formally recognized. Non-wizards use the title while fellow wizards use its translation in the Language of Magic like a proper name: when Agnieszka settles into her role as a witch, her narration starts referring to "The Dragon" as "Sarkan" instead. Defied by Agnieszka, who refuses a title and continues to use her birth name.
  • Red Shirt: Justified during the expedition to rescue Queen Hanna. The wizards don't have enough magic to cast protection spells on every member of the party, so they prioritize themselves and Prince Marek. Everyone else gets a single mildly enchanted scarf. It goes about as well as the Dragon expects.
  • Refused by the Call: Kasia was obviously the one girl the Dragon would take away and was raised to face this destiny with all the skills and grace needed. Then she learns she's not actually special when the Dragon picks her best friend instead.
  • The Resenter: Agnieszka towards The Dragon, as she's always assumed he would one day take her best friend from her. She is rather surprised when that doesn't happen the way she imagined.
  • Rewatch Bonus: The beginning of the book reads rather differently when one is aware that the Dragon is a fundamentally shy man with outright negative interpersonal skills who recognizes Agnieszka as a budding witch who has to be properly trained and more importantly taken away from the Wood immediately.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Marek, a war hero, and Sigmund, a responsible and politically-minded man who will go into battle at need. Alosha says that she lives in Polyna because their monarchy is this sort—they are, by and large, competent rulers who care about their country.
  • Safety in Indifference: Alosha explains that after you've lived long enough, you learn not to love people. Also, Dragon, who has some commitment issues, and Wensa, because for seventeen years she thought her daughter will be taken from her.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: Among Marek's achievements are going to slay a dragon and finding it was just some peasants pretending there was a dragon taking their sheep so they wouldn’t have to give them to their lord.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Most of what the humans know from the fall of the tower kingdom comes from a pair of lesser wizards who fled right before it fell.
  • Shock and Awe: Agnieszka tinkers with a rain-summoning spell to call lightning from the sky. It's Awesome, but Impractical, packing a huge punch even against super-tough denizens of the Wood but leaving her dazed, battered, and temporarily deaf.
  • Smug Snake: Solya, the Falcon, is an accomplished wizard and skilled in court politics, but he's too wrapped up in them and his envy of Dragon's greater skill to be clearsighted about the Wood's threat. Instead he swanks around trying to outmaneuver him and Agnieszka with disastrous results.
  • So Beautiful It's a Curse: Toyed with. Beautiful girls born in October are subject to the Dragon's attention. Everyone assumes that the graceful and talented Kasia is going to be next, and that assumption shaped a lot of her upbringing.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": Zig-zagged with wizards. Non-wizards use their names like titles ("The Dragon"), but fellow wizards use their direct translations in the Language of Magic ("Sarkan").
  • Start of Darkness: The Wood was created by a tree-person who married a mortal king, then was betrayed and entombed by his followers on his death. When she escaped and found that her people had turned themselves fully into trees to avoid extinction, she got sad... then a pair of hapless woodcutters came along, and she got mad.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Agnieszka offers to help the Wood-Queen let go of her rage, become a tree like the rest of her ancient kin, and join them in their eternal dream. She accepts on the spot.
  • Taken for Granite: Dragon has a potion whose fumes do this, leaving the victim with no sense of time. Agnieszka accidentally gets caught by it in her first days at the tower. She later uses it on Jerzy to freeze the progression of the Wood's corruption until he can be healed.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Agnieszka and the Dragon get together as their shared workings and her actions create greater intimacy between them.
  • They Call Him "Sword": Alosha's name means "The Sword" in the Language of Magic, and she's an Ultimate Blacksmith and Master Swordswoman with well over a century of experience.
  • Tragic Monster: The Wood Queen is the last of her kind, betrayed by humanity and alone in her pain, unable either to die or to follow her kin into eternal slumber. When Agnieszka offers to help her become a tree and finally rejoin her people in dreams, she immediately accepts.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Gawky, constantly unkempt Agnieszka running about in her brothers' castoffs and beautiful, multi-talented Kasia learning to serve a great noble were best friends since they could walk.
  • Training the Gift of Magic: Only those born with the gift of magic (like Agnieszka) can cast spells. There are a lot of spells out there to learn, and casting them gets easier with practice. It's still possible to use your gift in small ways without spells, even if you don't know that you have a gift, but you're not going to get very far. Hence the king's law that everyone with the gift must be trained.
  • Tsundere: The Dragon. He's just as bad at admitting that he likes someone as he is at admitting that he has feelings other than irritation.
  • Ultimate Blacksmith: Alosha "The Sword" forges magical blades and arrows for Polya's elite troops, but her magnum opus is a sword that she's spent a century enchanting to be able to kill anything it strikes.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Kasia knows nothing about sword usage beyond "swing sharp part at enemy." Her strength and invulnerability means that is enough to make her nearly unstoppable in battle.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: A pair of innocent woodcutters who tried cutting down the heart tree of one of the Wood-queen's people. The queen's rage would not die for centuries.
  • Verbed Title
  • Warrior Prince: Marek is widely-known as a great hero for his battles against the Wood's creatures.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Prince Sigmund is introduced as a sensible, responsible man who would be well-suited to take the throne after his father is murdered. After the scene where he's introduced, the next we hear of him is that he's been killed in a Rosyan ambush.
  • We Have Reserves: Marek throws 6000 soldiers into an assault on the tower, driven by the Wood-Queen's manipulation and his own impregnable ego.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • The Wizard Ragostok is last seen in the attack on Sarkan's tower. Perhaps he was killed by the Wood-Queen's attack, but he is never mentioned again.
    • The soldiers who survive the mission to rescue the Queen also vanish afterwards. It is unclear if they remain in the army (where they might die in the final act) or take Marek's promised reward and retire.
  • When Trees Attack: The Wood. It is everyone's enemy. Occasionally it sends tree-like "walkers" to abduct people and imprison them in heart trees, but it does much more and worse. What's more, it's intelligent enough to create diversions and meddle in politics miles from its border.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: A question that troubles Agnieszka throughout the book. She hates the thought of watching her child nieces and nephews grow old and die, and their children, on and on. When she begins cleansing the Wood, she eventually decides she'll probably allow herself to become a tree when she has enough of life.
  • Wild Magic: The form of magic that Agnieszka generally uses, in contrast with the much more ritualistic, rigid magic that the other wizards use. She intuitively tweaks her Spell Construction according to whatever feels right in the moment, to Sarkan's great irritation as he tries to study her magic empirically.
  • Wizards Live Longer: Those born with the gift of magic live for centuries and show almost no signs of aging for most of their lives. This applies whether or not they use their powers; Bello was identified as a wizard, to his own surprise, when he worked in a monastery for forty years and didn't age a day.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: The Wood is excellent at this, able to convert setbacks into advantages with terrifying ease. Its plots are likened to seeds — it sows thousands of them, some of which might lie dormant for decades, and nurtures them as they take root.
  • Yin-Yang Bomb: Sarkan's mathematically precise magic and Agnieszka's intuitive Wild Magic are Mutually Exclusive to each other, but they can join their powers to produce effects far beyond either of them, like Luthe's Summoning. Agnieszka describes it as his magic creating a scaffold for hers to grow on, or being driven by hers like a waterwheel by a river.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: The women who leave the Dragon's tower never return home to stay. It could be the ten-year isolation with an immortal wizard of high nobility. It's also because after ten years, the magic they've absorbed from drinking in the Spindle's watershed has gone, and they can realize how unwise it is to live near the inhuman corruption that wants to kill everyone.


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