Author: Naomi Novik
Published: May 2015
“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.
I find it odd that the blurb of this book mentions only the introductory paragraphs of the story. It doesn’t really do the depth and novelty of the worldbuild any justice. I was pleasantly surprised to realize how much imagination went into this story.
Characterization and badassery
Agnieszka starts out as a bit of a bumbling clod. In some ways, she remains so throughout the story. That’s a nice change. I enjoyed seeing a protagonist who was not gorgeous and super smart.
Plot and pacing
The first half of the book went right by. This was the better half, really. It offered depth and thought and worldbuilding that didn’t require a lot of mental word or info dumps. Once we hit the lead-in to the climax, the writing began to drag, even though it was pretty much all action. Really, it was one prolonged, overly wordy action scene after another. Right when I should have been really treasuring every word, I was skimming to get through the pages and pages of wordy scenes where big things happened in tiny increments.
However, Naomi Novik did do a good job of gradually raising the stakes in the story. You never had to wonder about the characters’ motivations.
Prose and editing
There’s a particular style of writing that is mostly quite lovely. Sometimes it creates a “wait, what?” situation where I had to go back a sentence or two to figure out what the author really meant. Once I understood the meaning, I realized that the composition was not incorrect. Just occasionally easy to misunderstand for a fast reader. But like I said, for the most part, I enjoyed the prose, which really allowed me to see the creepy scary things, as well as the lovely magic things.
Nah, not really. Occasionally the characters will say something kind of cute, but never funny enough to make me smile.
It’s been a while since I read something so imaginative, with such a unique worldbuild. And without the boredom of major infodump or pages of background or even <shudder> prologue. I loved the antagonist of this book. The Wood is truly disturbing, yet very interesting. Seeing how the characters fought such a strange foe was an interesting journey.