Author: Naomi Novik
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
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.
So this definitely took me a while to finish but I'm glad I followed through with it because it was a really good story. I mostly enjoyed the latter half of the novel because the first half had a lot of pacing and execution issues. It was very stop-and-go in the beginning; there was a burst of action and then the plot dwindled to a crawl then another burst and another crawl.
I liked the fact that since Agnieszka was introduced as the Dragon’s latest captive it served as a catalyst in questioning the routine that was settled on the relationship between the Dragon and the villages he protects. Nieshka’s involvement produces an awakening in the Dragon and his methods. Her unique power and straightforward personality was able to infiltrate the Dragon’s dogged attitude and stiff mannerisms.
I had a love-hate relationship with the writing due to its inconsistent prose. I loved the fluidity of the author's writing when she was describing anything, the scenery, the action, character’s feelings, etc. I hated when she tried to convey emotions via dialogue. In that instance, it was missing that fluidity and she wasn’t able to fully get across the passion in the emotion the character was trying to express.
I enjoyed the characters for the most part and believed they developed quite nicely throughout the story. However, I didn't get attached to any of them because of their development that they each went through was restricted to the circumstances they were in. Like the main character for example, Agnieszka, she turned out to be an amazing character but beyond the scope of the plot of fighting against the Woods, there was no substance to her. The Dragon was the same. His grumpiness was mostly just irritating to read about and his development was very slow-going.
The best parts of the story were mostly when the characters interacted with one another. They showed a depth in feeling was easily captured and conveyed to the reader. Agnieszka's friendship with Kasia was one of favorite parts to read about. And the relationship between Agnieszka and the Dragon was fun to witness develop because of the polarity between them was comical.
Another aspect that I found fascinating was the character of the Woods and how elaborate the author made it. The entire world-building that the author constructed was magnificent and very fairy tale-esque. That may be the biggest reason this book wasn't a five stars for me. I don't enjoy the linear plots of fairy tales. There's just something very constricting about the plots of fairy tales that limits the characters personalities by tying their development to their determination of confronting the Big Bad, in this case the Woods.