by Naomi Novik
Genre: YA, fantasy, romance, fairy tale
“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: ”
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.
Slight spoilers below, but nothing major.
I was amazed by the story told here – it’s full of badass magic and action, but most of all it has a chilling amount of horror when the Wood decides to become a major, MAJOR player. 😀 I loved our protagonist; however, I was missing more fleshed out characters when it comes to the supporting cast. It is still a very good book although fans of romance might have a thing or two to say about it.
The Dragon, a near immortal magician, is fascinating. You’ll yearn for more scenes with him because he’s the right mix of arrogant, funny, and smug. I shipped him so hard with Agnieszka but he was as stubborn as a mule and the romantic spark progressed nowhere for a very long time. Their dynamic mostly consisted of him simmering in outrage at the impossible things she did when he tried to teach her his type of magic yet being utterly fascinated and smitten with her, and the equal amount of rage she had for him until she figured out he was all bark and no bite. 😀 Their interactions are pure comedy gold and epic unspoken truths. The Dragon runs hot in body and temperament. Their story was the best part of the book, or at least the book was better when they were working together.
“I leaned against his side, his irritation oddly comforting. After a moment he grudgingly put his arm around me. The deep quiet was already settling back upon the grove, as if all the fire and rage we’d brought could make only a brief interruption in its peace.”
The prince got on my wrong side as soon as he pulled that stunt with Agnieszka – it was an attempted rape and not a seduction, however you squint at it. I knew he was bad news from then on. But he could also be this lost boy that women flock to in some stupid instinctual reaction. I was just glad our heroine isn’t dumb enough to fall for such things. I so loved that we avoided most clichés and that there were lots of strong women around with the men not batting an eye at that. I loved, loved this world building. 😀
“If you don’t want a man dead, don’t bludgeon him over the head repeatedly.” The Dragon to Agnieszka.
The Wood is creepy as hell but the back-story will make you realise there is order behind its malicious spread, an agenda few dare to imagine. For a long time people just assume it is normal for it to spread, to kill or infect people. They have forgotten that it wasn’t so and even the Dragon has a hard time getting to the root of the problem he’s facing. He can do only so much to help the people and magic away the infections. Not even the yearly burnings o stop the sick parts of the forest infecting more land help much. It is like the passage of time and gained ground only strengthens its power. The Dragon knows he’s losing the battle but the royals and other wizards don’t listen to his warnings, too caught up in politics to care about villagers from a remote valley.
It’s also genius how the writer made it mandatory for our cast to go into the wood in order to put a stop to an old war between the two kingdoms on each side of the forest. The Dragon knows it is foolhardy and practically suicide to try saving the queen who had been abducted and abandoned in the forest decades ago. He feels, rightly so, that the Wood is somehow manipulating events in order to entrap magic users and deal a fatal blow to all people. The stakes were so high I was afraid to read on because I genuinely feared my favourites were gonna die. Game of Thrones, you’ve left some deep mental scars…
So I loved the part where the past slowly unravels and we learn the genesis of the Wood. It was a story I’d love to read more about, especially since our lovely protagonist Agnieszka forms a pretty strong bond with the forest. I believe the wood will satisfy any horror lovers. The quote below shows just what it made people do on a good day.
“Those the walkers carried into the Wood were less lucky. We didn’t know what happened to them, but they came back out sometimes, corrupted in the worst way: smiling and cheerful, unharmed. They seemed almost themselves to anyone who didn’t know them well, and you might spend half a day talking with one of them and never realize anything was wrong, until you found yourself taking up a knife and cutting off your own hand, putting out your own eyes, your own tongue, while they kept talking all the while, smiling, horrible. And then they would take the knife and go inside your house, to your children, while you lay outside blind and choking and helpless even to scream. If someone we loved was taken by the walkers, the only thing we knew to hope for them was death, and it could only be a hope.”
I would recommend this book to all fairy tale lovers who don’t want a romance heavy story and also love to shiver in fear from time to time. The magic and action are solid, the Wood creepy and nightmare inducing, but there’s also plenty of laughs all around. 😀 Even with some slight issues I couldn’t ignore (not enough Dragon!), this book is definitely something to check out. Read the book for the heroine and the magic, with the Wood throwing in some good old-time horror. 😀