Author: Naomi Novik.
Published: May 21st 2015 by Macmillan
Source: From the publisher on Netgalley, thanks!
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.
“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.”
Every 10 year the Dragon comes down to the village in the valley to claim another girl. Nobody knows what happens to them, but they never return the same: they are ’wild’ and educated, ready to see the world instead of settling down like the rest of them. Everyone knows Kasia will be taken next, best friend from Agnieszka. Imagine her surprise when the Dragon takes her.
He is not at all what she expected, and to be honest also not what I thought. The Dragon is an attractive guy who wants to teach Agnieszka how to use her new discovered magic, instead of a fire-breathing creature. The two of them have to work together against the power of the Wood before it swallows the whole country in it’s wickedness.
Agnieszka was delightful. Forget about perfect, beautiful girls and welcome her in your life. She is clumsy and nothing special. She always trips, she can’t keep her clothes clean and trouble seems to be attached to her. Her appearance are never written down as noteworthy and I loved her unruly hair and ordinary looks. She has a strong spirit, quick mind and despite her shyness knows how to stand up for herself in times of need. It was fun to see her grow into her power and to discover she has her own kind of magic.
The Dragon is a mysterious, insulting guy who has no patience for Agnieszka and all the trouble she gives him. He always snaps at her, but underneath that is someone who is clearly worried about his people. His perfectionism stands in his way and I laughed because of his struggle when it comes to his feelings for Agnieszka. The only problem I had was the fact he felt really distant to me. I wish I got to see more of his emotions, which made me romance a little bland. They had chemistry, but it could have used some extra spark. On the other hand, there is one steamy scene that showed promise. I just wish there was more so that I would have shipped them harder.
The plot is interesting and has a rather creepy setting. It was very vivid and detailed, without being too overly descriptive. There is the Woods, a place where monsters roam around, ready to snatch people away. When someone gets in contact with the Woods they turn corruptive and they will kill everyone in their way. I loved the plot around this place and how Agnieszka is willing to sacrifice herself to save her friend Kasia when she has been taken. It could have used more pace every now and then, but I was captivated by the writing-style and the question: what will happen next?
The last thing I want to address is the friendship between Agnieszka and Kasie. It was wonderful. These girls support each other no matter what. There is a healthy amount of jealousy between them, which made it realistic, and I love how their friendship is featured throughout the story. It made me appreciate Agnieszka even more and Kasia herself is a pretty interesting character as well.
Do you like folklore? Do you like dark settings and grim fairytales? This is definitely a book for you.