Published: May 19th, 2015
A quick summary: in a valley surrounded by the Wood, every ten years a wizard called the Dragon choses one girl to take from her family. When she returns ten years later she is refined, learned, and he has given her a small fortune, but no one wants to marry the girls that the Dragon takes, and they no longer feel like they belong in the valley. The year that the Dragon will come chose a girl is approaching, and everyone knows that he will take Kasia because of her beauty and bravery. In fact, since birth her mother has been preparing her to be chosen. However, he ends up choosing her plainer friend Agnieszka. The whole book is told from Agnieszka’s perspective, and though the process of choosing a girl is mysterious to the people in the valley, once Agnieszka gets to his home it becomes apparent that the Dragon takes girls who have the gift, and he trains them to become witches. (I swear I’m not spoiling anything – you learn all of this information by page 25 of 438.)
I picked this book up from the library on very little information, but I’m really glad I did. It has a really high rating on Goodreads and the premise sounded intriguing. I don’t think I’ve thought so much about how entertaining a book was when writing its review. That’s largely why I gave it the rating that I did – this book was more than the sum of its parts.
It’s difficult to give the plot of this book justice, but that was also part of the reason why I didn’t give it a perfect score. On the one hand everything that happened had a purpose and it was all connected. When Agnieszka goes to live with the Dragon she finds herself in the middle of battles that had been going on for ages, and had little to do with her. There is hostility between her own country, Polnya, and a neighboring country, Rosya. There is also the ever-present threat of the Wood which is a living entity that literally kidnaps, kills, and corrupts man and beast. Anyone who is corrupted becomes a (violent) servant to the Woods’ purposes. I really loved how creepy and threatening and mysterious the Woods were, with heart-trees and the scary-ass walkers.
Anyway… It was actually interesting the way that Agnieszka’s small, personal struggles ended up playing into a much larger political, social, and magical struggles that she was partially unaware of. But, as an example of the insaneness of the plot, there was one page that contained two completely unrelated shockers, which I thought was a bit excessive. As I noted before, my summary was only of the first 25 pages of the book, and a plot like that could have been a book of its own. But this book contains a lot stuff.
I don’t read a lot of fantasy; in fact I went back through my Goodreads, and the last time I read something that is considered pure fantasy was The Hobbit in 2012. So, it’s not really on my radar, and I don’t have the same background on the genre as I do literary fiction. But I really enjoyed this and it made me want to seek out more of Novik’s work.
One thing that I appreciated was that the majority of the main characters in this book were women, and they were all really strong, in one way or another – Agnieszka, Kasia, Alosha, Queen Hanna, the Wood-queen, this book was filled. I think it’s awesome that a book like this is getting so much recognition when we are constantly hearing that it takes male characters/authors for books to be taken seriously. Of course this book may not win any awards, and maybe that’s the real problem, but now I’m just going off on a path I didn’t intend so I’ll hop off.
I would highly recommend this book for anyone who wanted to be entertained by lots of danger and excitement, and can keep track of a complicated but still somewhat linear plot line.
Overall rating – 9/10
Character development – 4/5
Plot – 4/5
Language/style – 4/5