The official blurb:
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.
This review will be short (blame summer!) but the bottom line is: if you love fantasy, you should read this book (and not just because it won a Nebula and is nom’d for a Hugo).
Novik’s story about the strong-minded and self-possessed Agnieszka is an absolute joy to read. It’s beautifully written, at turns funny, scary, beautiful, and bewildering. There are complex characters that change and grow and surprised me throughout the story. There’s a system of magic that is not orderly and neatly contained by saying the right spells the right way, but is rather something organic and somewhat unpredictable. It all takes place in a world that is magical and enchanting and brutal at the same time. There are bad people doing good things, good people doing bad things, and an ending that had me on the edge of my seat. (Alosha’s sword! The basement! The Spindle!)
One of my favourite characters in the story is The Wood itself: mysterious and dark and secretive, alluring and frightening, and so terrible in its wrath that it makes you wonder what made it so angry. (Yes, you will find out…)
There’s just enough romance to make you flush occasionally, but more than enough action to keep the story in full flight from the first chapter to the last. It’s worthy of all the hype, all the awards, and all the accolades.
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