Author: Naomi Novik
Published May 19, 2015 by Del Ray
Date finished: May 7, 2018
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.
My thoughts (spoiler free)
Well, this book wasn’t everything I hoped it would be.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike it, per se. I just wasn’t super into it. Weirdly, it reminded me a bit of the kind of fairy tale-esque fantasy novels that I used to love when I was younger, like Robin McKinley or Gail Carson Levine’s books (only somewhat more…adult). It makes me wonder if I would still love those if I revisited them today.
I was intrigued by the plot summary, because who doesn’t love some good dragons and high fantasy? Starting out, it felt like a strong and developed world with some eerie foreshadowing. I thought the setting overall was wonderfully done! It was atmospheric and spooky and had the feeling of danger just around every corner.
It took me a while to get into the plot since it’s a bit slow starting out. There are slow spots throughout the book, actually, and I would get into it in spurts – sometimes dragging myself along, sometimes flying through the pages. So the pacing felt a bit off to me. The ending felt like it dragged somewhat as well. It was all very tense and exciting, but that excitement went on for just a smidge too long, to the point that I was just ready for it to be over.
As for the characters, I really liked Agnieszka. She was super cool and badass. Unfortunately, she was about the only character I cared about.
I didn’t much like the Dragon, even though (spoilers) we’re eventually supposed to like him. And Kasia wasn’t fleshed out a lot beyond being Agnieszka friend, so I wasn’t invested in her very much either.
(Also – slightly larger spoiler ahead – I was really not on board with the romance between the Dragon and Agnieszka. Age gaps of, uh, a couple centuries are not really my thing. I know this was given an explanation but it still made me kinda uncomfy.)
The writing, though, was this book’s strongest quality, in my opinion. There’s no denying that Naomi Novik is a wonderful writer – her descriptions and prose were beautiful throughout. The language that was used to describe the Wood made it seem all the more creepy and evil! During one of the more tense scenes, I was basically glued to the page, mostly due to the strength of the writing.
So, those are my thoughts. Didn’t live up to all of my expectations, but the worldbuilding and writing style was top notch. It definitely had the feel of a classic fantasy novel and didn’t stray far from the usual conventions of the genre. If that’s your thing, then you’d probably love it.
“I imagined my magic running into the ground like water, finding cracks and weaknesses, spreading out beneath my hands, beneath my cold wet knees: and the earth shuddered and turned over.”