by Naomi Novik
Publisher: Del Ray
Publication Date: May 19th, 2015
Format Read: Kindle E-Book
“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”
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 fact that this book is up for a Goodreads award had little to do with why I read it. This book was a rare book, in that it was a recommendation from my mother, and it was an even rarer book, in that it was an excellent recommendation. I devoured it in one sitting (unfortunately ending at 3:00 in the morning) and am waiting eagerly for a second chance to reread it–what is the waiting time? A week?
Anyways, long story short, this was a fantastic read. It was fantasy, but not epic fantasy–wizards and witches and stuff, yes, but not really an epic quest. There wasn’t much politics, and only one ‘Dragon’ to be seen. I was surprised, since I knew Naomi Novik from seeing all of her dragon books, but I enjoyed it despite that. The world was well described, even though about ¾ of it took place in a little tower in a little valley. Also, the main baddie was a forest, which was surprisingly awesome.
What I really, REALLY loved was Nieschka and the Dragon, their personalities and relationship. The beginning was hilarious, his obsessive need for order versus her whirlwind of chaos, but I loved the moment when they first started to understand each other and work together instead of fight. They weren’t a great student-teacher pair, mostly because the Dragon had no idea how to teach her, but Nieschka caught up quickly, and they worked together well.
The quality Nieschka shows the most strongly throughout the book is love and compassion for her friends, and she will defend them no matter the cost. She sticks her neck out multiple times, braves ridiculous danger for the sake of friends, and frequently performs magic that everyone assures her can’t actually be performed, in order to help people. Her friendship with Kasia remains extremely strong throughout the book, which I loved–I feel like it’s rare to have that kind of friendship in a fantasy novel. And, again, she does the same with the Dragon, looking past his hardened exterior to tug him out of his shell.
I also love the fact that Nieschka isn’t anything like perfect. She’s always, ALWAYS messy–I about fell over laughing when the Dragon kept transforming her plain, stained dresses into these elaborate gowns. She’s tall and awkward and gawky, and is stubborn as all get out. Also that the Dragon is a bit stuffy and awkward, and that Kasia, despite how in the beginning she is held up as an ideal, becomes much more realistic (ironically, despite becoming less human). Also how Nieschka and Kasia are forced to face all of the dark things lurking underneath their friendship and come out stronger for it.
Also, romance. It’s never really in the foreground, and maybe because of that it feels very natural. There’s no sparks-fly moment, not really, more just two people becoming closer and closer until it makes absolute sense for them to become physically as well as emotionally entangled. I’m usually at least a bit torn about student-teacher relationships, or at least large age differences, but here it didn’t seem to matter–what helped, I think, at least partially, was that Nieschka was the one saying ‘I want this’, and making moves.
Also, the valley feels so…real. I’m not going to say all the world-building was great, because the whole part at the court felt like a bad dream, but that’s also likely deliberate. Nieschka is so tied to her valley, with the tower and the Wood, that being away from it just felt strange. And, I have to reiterate, the fact that the baddie is a giant evil forest (and that it has a complex and beautiful backstory) is just perfect.
I have to agree with pretty much everyone else who has reviewed this book, that this is a Goddess among books, and I encourage you all to read (re-read) it along with me, since I will undoubtedly read this another 5 times in succession.
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.