- Page Count: 438
- Release Date: May 19, 2015
- My Rating: 3.5 stars
“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.
I came SUPER close to giving this 4 stars. I think in the end I absolutely loved certain elements, but the story as a whole didn’t click with me. But hear me out because I still completely recommend it!
Let me start with the coolest part: the Wood. The antagonist in this story is a freaking woods and it worked so well. (See, I get started on elements like this and I’m like “5 STARS! ALL THE STARS!” But just wait). So people who go into the Wood don’t come back, and if they do they’re possessed by it: “they came out with their own faces but murder behind them, something gone dreadfully wrong within.” Like the people are just a vehicle for the Wood, which has a mind of its own and can plot and is SO WONDERFULLY CREEPY. It’s like a mix of The Brothers Grimm movie & Sleepy Hollow:
So the basic plot is that the Dragon (who, sadly, is NOT a dragon. He’s a centuries-old wizard stuck in an attractive younger body… because this is still YA) lives in a tower and keeps the evil of the Wood at bay. He takes a teen girl from the valley every decade (for reasons to do with the Wood & its corruption). The girl just lives in his awesome tower for 10 years, brings the cranky guy food everyday, say a few words to him, and then skedaddles. At the start of the story everyone thinks the Dragon will take Agnieszka’s best friend Kaisa, but he takes Agnieszka instead. She finds out she’s a super powerful witch, so she learns magic from the Dragon and teaches him too (because she’s naturally awesome). Long story short… they save the kingdom? Whatever, I really lost interest in the second half.
The Dragon’s character was one of the biggest letdowns for me. A tormented wizard who broods around his library while casually being the strongest wizard in the land should have a WAY stronger character than what we were left with. All he ever does is belittle Agnieszka and call her an idiot, so I wasn’t totally sold on their sudden romance. I wanted to love him so much! But his character fell kind of flat by the end and I wasn’t sure why she was so attracted to him. I don’t remember him saying one nice thing the entire story, but I suppose his standoffish personality fit. I just wanted a bit more depth to his character in order to connect more with their part of the story.
The characters in general kind of took a backseat to the whole plot about the Wood and magic, which was unfortunate because I really liked the characters and wanted to care more about them! The Wood ended up being the strongest character by far. Agnieszka was a capable MC, but I got a much better sense of her friend Kaisa for some reason. Their friendship was easily the best relationship in the story, though, and I loved how far they’d go to help each other!
The beginning of the book was absolutely wonderful. The gorgeous narrative built such a rich world with a dark fairy tale quality. So I was thrilled with everything up until the halfway point where the story suddenly jumped to the capital or wherever. Like the world suddenly got 10x as huge and the plot now revolved around court politics, a ton of new characters, and wars with other kingdoms… and I just did not care. I wanted to go back to the tower with the Dragon or have SOME better segue out of the valley.
I really think this book might have worked better as a duology with more time spent in each area. It seemed odd to spend so much time out of the valley and set up the politics with other kingdoms just to barely use it. Or to use it weirdly… and I really didn’t need that odd backstory for the Wood.
I also wasn’t huge on the way the lovely slow writing stayed just as slow in giant paragraphs during action scenes so it was hard to tell that anything particularly gripping was happening. I did think the writing was well done for the most part, though!
So in the end I loved this world, but I’m also not sure how much of it I added in my head because of the occasionally vague worldbuilding. I think I liked the story overall? I mean, I didn’t actively dislike it and there were a ton of individual aspects that I adored, yet… for some reason I’m kind of ambivalent about the story as a whole. It has everything I would normally love: a creepy fairy tale aesthetic, castles, princes, swords, magic, wizards, libraries, etc. But I really can’t forget that I didn’t connect with most of the story no matter how hard I tried.
I still have mostly positive feelings about this book, though, and do recommend it! Just maybe go into it with lowered expectations? (There are so many 5 star reviews that I was super excited for my new favorite book).