by Naomi Novik
Pages: 400, ebook
Publisher: Tor UK
Date Released: June 1, 2015
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.
The writing is so lovely. It feels so musical and whimsical, rolling off the tongue in sweet waves. I stopped often to reread sentences and passages, often reading them aloud to hear the music in the words.
There's a rustic quality to the words--to the story itself. Set in an Eastern-European setting, it felt almost like coming home. I'm of Polish descent, and it makes me homesick for a place I've never been.
Agnieszka's fumbling of magic is endearing, and completely realistic. She's just a plain girl who knows nothing of magic, despite having it flow through her naturally. The way she stumbles her way through saving her village is courageous, even though she is in a constant state of terror. She's a strong character, learning to bond with a fickle thing like magic, and an intolerant fickle man like the Dragon.
The Dragon felt like a more adult version of the arrogant and selfish Howl from Howl's Moving Castle, trapping young women in his tower. His utter impatience towards Agnieszka is comedic, I couldn't stop giggling to myself. He is so uptight and to-the-letter that it's impossible for him to imagine a world different to the one he's carved out for himself, so when chaos follows Agnieszka, it's interesting to see his reactions. They are just such polar opposites, and yet they fit together perfectly.
The friendship between Agnieszka and Kasia was so raw and beautiful that it hurt whenever something went between them. And a lot of things went between them. The whole bloody Wood was conspiring to break them apart.Friendship plays a huge role within this book, and Nieszka and Kasia are together until the very end. It is their friendship that allows them to fight back the corruption of the Wood.
This is a book about magic and redemption, of the corruption of good people, and the purity of those corrupted. It managed to weasel itself into being one of my favourite books ever.