I love both of these covers. So much. So I had to share both of them in this review.
Author: Naomi Novik
Release Date: 19 May 2015
Naomi Novik, author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed Temeraire novels, introduces a bold new world rooted in folk stories and legends, as elemental as a Grimm 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: 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.
Where do I even start. I've had this book on my to-read pile for-ever. It's stared at me, urging me to start it and I, stubbornly, delayed. I wish that I hadn't. This is - easily - one of my favorite finds this year. It's an amazing fantasy book, told in the fairy-tale way.
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.
I was immediately drawn into this world, it's so lush and vividly described. For some this might be a negative, as it's very much a fantasy in this aspect - the world is beautifully rendered, a painting that you could spend hours looking at and still see new details that maybe you've placed there yourself, and maybe the artist has creatively hidden with light and shadow. I could feel the pull of the land, the menace of the Wood, the heart of the stream. Even now, having just finished and set my Kindle aside with some reluctance, I want to re-visit this world, staying there to meander amongst the trees.
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 neve 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...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.
The story is classic fairy-tale, exactly what I was looking for and didn't even realize. Agnieska is the unlikely hero, set out to accomplish the impossible task. What makes this so much more than just another fairy-tale-like story is the beautiful prose that it's woven in. Time and time, again, I had to pause and simply appreciate a beautiful turn of phrase or description, or bit of speech from the characters. I felt each and every word that was written, as if the story had a life its own and was telling it to me.
I was in the Wood again, underneath the boughs, that cold hateful presence watching me. The momentary silence in the room was only its pause for breath. Stone walls and sunlight meant nothing. The Wood's eyes were on us. The Wood was here.
...But, and I hate to even bring it up because everything about this story left me full of wonder and marvel, except the romance. It was lightly incorporated, not integral to the story, and honestly the entire thing was fairly unnecessary, but I liked having it there. I just needed a little more to make it satisfying. In the end he felt too unwilling and begrudging about it, and she too forgiving and full of acceptance of his gruff behavior. It felt lopsided. Perhaps just another little bit at the end to show how it went from there? I don't know, but it left me hanging in a way that the rest of the story didn't. The relationship between Agnieska and Kasia was more nuanced and full of (obvious) love than the romance.
And I wasn't old enough to be wise, so I loved her more, not less, because I knew she would be taken from me soon.
One minor complaint, I've said it and I needn't think about it again - I'd rather go on and on about the lyrical prose, beautiful story-telling, and wonderful world that Ms. Novik's created here.