Every ten years the Dragon takes a girl from the valley. Not to eat, of course – he’s a wizard, not an actual dragon. But that doesn’t change the fact that these girls are gone from their homes for ten years, and when they’re released, they’re not the same. So needless to say no one exactly wants to get chosen by the Dragon. But Agnieszka isn’t too worried – she and everyone else in the village know it’s Kasia who will be chosen. But of course, when the time comes for the Dragon to choose, it’s not Kasia he chooses – it’s Agnieszka. But what makes this story truly spectacular is where it takes place; it unfolds against the backdrop of the Wood that surrounds Agnieszka’s valley. The Wood is not someplace you go, and it’s also not someplace from which you return.
There is so much I loved about this book I don’t even know where to begin. From the names to the setting to the prose, there is so much to praise. Most of all, I am a huge fan of the ‘something in the woods is evil’ trope which this book uses perfectly. The uneasiness creeps into the story so slowly you almost don’t notice it when it’s suddenly all around you. The Wood is the equivalent of that shot in a zombie movie where the monster is way in the background but slowly advancing – constantly there, never tiring, always moving closer. It’s true that some parts of the plot feel expected – Agnieszka slowly realizes just why the Dragon has taken her, and while this part can be seen coming a mile off, it’s still fun and manages to make itself feel novel. The rest of the plot truly is novel, as both the Dragon and Agnieszka realize they’re up against something far darker than they could have imagined.
All in all this is the best fantasy novel I’ve read in quite a while. And while I do want to know more about this world, I’m glad it’s not a part of a series. This one book contains the story quite nicely, and to try to add any sequels would just feel like reaching. Still, there are definitely hints to a much larger world, and I wouldn’t be totally adverse to a prequel novella or two. Also, pro-tip: it’s pronounced ag-NYESH-kah. Novik helpfully provides this pronunciation, but not until the end of the book! I’m afraid you’re on your own for pronunciation of the rest of the names, but you can think of that as just adding to the mysterious atmosphere which pervades the rest of the book.
Author: Naomi Novik
ISBN: 0804179050 (ebook)
Dates read: May 31-June 5, 2016
Rating: Five stars