published in 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.
I LOVED this book! I read it within 2 days and loved every page of it. So glad I got it immediately when it was published and it didn’t disappoint. I feared that it would be more YA than Adult Fantasy, but it wasn’t at all. It’s a great fantasy book and fairy tale for adults and I can only recommend it to everyone who loves Fantasy as much as I do. Also it is a stand-alone with a satisfying ending.
Lots of elements in the story have a Russian influence, like the names of the characters, the villages and also the food. Novik also uses some Russian myths in the story here and there – some only appear shortly like the girl with the yellow cow but others play a role throughout the book like Baba Jaga.
The characters were all created well and I could see them clearly in my head. Agnieszka, the main character isn’t a typical heroine. She is clumsy, average looking and can’t keep her clothes tidy. I loved her so much though as she is not doubting herself and tries to be brave for her friends and family. She is very stubborn and curious and of course she does have some useful talents. It’s no surprise that she is chosen by the dragon instead of her beautiful friend Kasia. Kasia plays an important role as well and her friendship with Nieshka is a core element of the story. I loved the depiction of it, there are so many layers to their relationship and it all seemed so very real to me. The so-called dragon was a great character as well. He is mysterious, loves beauty and order and entertained me with his dry comments & humour. I loved how his relationship with Nieshka developed as two very different characters clash with each other.
The magic in this story is amazing. It is sooo beautiful and colourful. I especially loved the scene in which the Dragon and Nieshka call up an illusion of a rose and everything else that followed. The magic they work is the same but they approach it through different ways and I understand how it is done, which is always a good thing.
The enemy in this book is not a person this time but the Wood. It is described as a living being that is always increasing, trying to gain power and corrupting people who go into it. I think this is a brilliant idea and the Wood as the villain worked perfectly! It is described as a threatening and evil force that the wizards are trying to hold back but the Wood is scheming as well and trying to plant its seeds wherever it can.
There is also a lot of violence in this book. That and the sexual content are factors that make it a story for adults and not kids although the cover might suggest otherwise.
Especially in the end it gets pretty dark and it’s horrible to see how the Wood manipulated people and turned them against each other. The end tied everything together for me, there were some surprises as well as many touching scenes.
I really enjoyed Novik’s style of writing. Everything seemed so vivid and colorful and it was easy to imagine everything in my head. I especially loved the scenes in which magic was involved but actually, everything was amazing.
This book shows that it IS possible to put a gripping tale of fantasy, friendship, magic and tragic as well as character development in one stand-alone novel and let it all end in a satisfying way. I will definitely read more by Naomi Novik!