By Naomi Novik
Hardcover: 435 pages
Publication Date: May 19, 2015
Publisher: Del Rey
My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ✰ ✰ ( 3 out of 5 Stars )
“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 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.
Agnieszka. I have a confession here, one that I am not at all proud of, but I digress. The entire way through the book, I read her name as 'Agniefffft', because come on, who can actually pronounce that mouthful of a name?! I would read the first syllable, and my mind would drift off into a blur of strange letters and sounds. The pronunciation is at the end. Go figure. It is actually "ag-NYESH-kah". Anyone that hasn't read this book; you're welcome! I am saving you from uncountable attempts at slaughtering the pronunciation of the main character's name. She is a quirky, lovable, clumsy girl. All her life, she knew that there was nothing special about her.
The story begins in a tiny village called Dvernik, where nothing exciting ever happens. Except the fact that it is surrounded by 'the wood'. A ridiculously creepy forest where unknown creatures lurk in the shadows of massive trees. These creatures, every so often, escape from the wood to terrorize the small town. Anyone who enters either does not return, or becomes an entirely different person. It reminded me a lot of the folklore of the fae from old world Celtic lore. There is no physical barrier to separate the wood from normal ground either. It was like an entity itself, that expanded and breathed and did its own thing. The only thing standing in its way is the Dragon. So, I was assuming that the Dragon was.. actually.. a dragon. Alas, he is only a sorcerer with that name. Weird. I was pleasantly surprised that I would not be reading about a Smaug-like creature with a bad temper and fire breath. Wait. That description fits the sorcerer perfectly. He is a complete asshole. Every ten years, he chooses a girl from the village to come live with him, where she must stay and serve him for the entire time in his tower. She is locked away from her family and friends, not permitted to return to her home. It's basically Beauty and the Beast meets Rapunzel in a weird, twisted way. Agnieszka is the girl he chooses. I thought that I knew where this was going, but I was way off mark on the reasons why he takes these girls. Thankfully. No Stockholm Syndrome stories here. Phew. Just some weird ass romance that I did not, in any way, understand. One minute, they hated each other. The next, they were kissing. And there was no explanation. Nothing. Just.. boom. I didn't see any chemistry between the two, and I was shocked that the author took it there so quickly. Not to mention the fact that he never becomes any less of an asshole, even after their romance begins. Ugh.
I enjoyed the author's weaving of words. Her descriptions were beautiful at times, and over the top and boring at others. I didn't really like how Kasia, the girl's best friend, takes up most of the story. Her character was unimpressive and relatively boring. I also didn't appreciate the fact that Angieszka, brand new to magic, quickly becomes better at it than the Dragon. Come on now. It all seemed a bit too easy for her, and that tends to bore me to tears. The magic system was awkward and I never really understood the way that it worked. Most times, her spell casting included her humming some weird shit and boom. A tree turned into an ape and beat its chest. It was just.. weird and not set up well. The plot built slowly and was very drawn out at times. But the characters were well written, the setting was beyond creepy, and the plot was fresh and had just enough twist to make it all worth reading. 3 stars seems beyond fair for this one.
"We're meant to go. We're not meant to stay forever.”
“But she hadn't been able to take root. She'd remembered the wrong things, and forgotten too much. She'd remembered how to kill and how to hate, and she'd forgotten how to grow.”
“His name tasted of fire and wings, of curling smoke, of subtlety and strength and the rasping whisper of scales. He eyed me and said stiffly, "Don't land yourself into a boiling-pot, and as difficult as you may find it, try and present a respectable appearance.”
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