Author: Naomi Novik
Length: 464 Pages
I love it when friends suggest a book they think you’d like. I would not have known this gem existed without a writing friend of mine, and I am so grateful to her for suggesting it. As always, this review is my opinion out of hundreds, and it will contain spoilers.
“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.
~ Amazon summary
And of course the Dragon (also known as Sarkan) takes Agnieszka (can’t remember her age but I think she was maybe 17 or 18, or maybe she was older? At least that’s the vibe I got from her). What follows is a series of interactions and dialogues and action scenes that had me saying several times “OMG I love this book!” But lets break everything down, and let me show why this book is ending up on my Gem List.
This was honestly a pretty sweet roller coaster. It has its mild moments where things were a little dull and I was anxious for some action, but when the tension started to rise and the action built, oh man, you better hold onto your seat!
When the midpoint hit, so many awesome and horrible things were happening, that I couldn’t possibly imagine the climax being better – but it was. Novik kept raising the bar and the stakes, throwing my favorite characters into harder situations they had to power through.
This story woke up the burning desire for me to read. For a while, I’ve been avoiding books, reading maybe a few lines every so often, but nothing held onto me, until this one came along. I hated when I had to stop reading to go eat, to go to class, to shower, to sleep. Every free second I had, I opened this gem up and devoured as much as I could.
The biggest lesson I took from this story was to never give up. Agnieszka goes to hell and back to find a way to save her friend, to protect her family, to stop the Wood, and to save the world from being devoured. She found solutions not even Sarkan found. She had hope when he had lost it. And she made the right choices when others would’ve chosen the wrong ones. But she isn’t perfect and we’ll get into that later.
This was a fun adventure story and I will gladly read it again and again.
I think this might be my favorite natural villain. I don’t want to give too much away but having a wood as the main villain made this all the more interesting. You couldn’t forget about it. It’s always there in the back of your mind. It’s not stupid and when it fails, it finds a way to regain what it lost or to plant more corruption (pun intended) where it’s most needed. It has a goal, it has a motive, it has a reason. It’s complicated, it’s misunderstood, it’s horror, it’s death, it’s destruction.
I want to say so much more but it would be giving away a major plot point in the book. Basically, I loved the villain of this book.
I like her. I don’t love her, but I like her. She’s a good protagonist. She gets stuff done, and like what I said before, she doesn’t give up. She cares so much for Kasia and her family, that she’s willing to go to any length to make sure they’re safe.
She’s a little stubborn, especially at the beginning. Sarkan found she had magic and tries to teach her, but she struggles a lot and doesn’t really put in a lot of effort of learning. She’s not like the other girls that have come through, and that’s not a bad thing. Her stubbornness gets under Sarkan’s skin, which I loved, but it sometimes got annoying, like you can go too far when you’re stubborn to the point of hurting yourself or others, if that makes sense.
For example, and this is a small spoiler, but Sarkan likes it when the girls dress nice and Nieszka found it more comfortable to dress in rags, but there’s an instance where this man visits the tower they’re in and tries to force himself on her, and the only way she gets out of it is using the magic that Sarkan has been trying to teach her and she crafts a dress for herself that knocks the man away, giving her time to defend herself.
If she took more time to really learn the magic, then maybe she would’ve freed herself sooner, or used it to protect herself. I don’t know. But it gets easier for her, especially when she finds her own way of magic. Like, she uses it different then how Sarkan does and that’s a lot easier for her and everything works and flows.
Nieszka definitely grows by the end. She’s a different person who has seen and done so many things, but she keeps the goodness in her heart, which I loved.
The Dragon, aka Sarkan
I freakin’ love this guy. He’s so sassy and sarcastic. I mean, who wouldn’t be after living for hundreds of years? He may seem harsh at times, but deep down he cares about the world he lives in, spending his magic trying to protect the people and to figure out a way to defeat the Wood. The guy has his list of faults, but Agnieszka always brings up the rear when he fails. I don’t know how Agnieszka put up with this guy, but she did, and props to her. He would’ve driven me insane, but I love him for it.
Agnieszka & the Dragon
Of course, there needs to be a little romance in this. I’m kind of on the fence about these two. I wasn’t really into Bella and Edward’s romance from Twilight, but I wasn’t completely grossed out by it. This relationship, I kind of was. Like, Novik describes the Dragon as looking young, but by the way he acts and talks, I always pictured him with a small amount of wrinkles and a bit of grey in his hair; I felt his age through the pages.
I saw him as her mentor, her teacher, her master and she the apprentice, her kind of partner, not a love interest. He doesn’t treat her nice. He never encourages her. They have a connection through the magic, but there’s not that much chemistry otherwise. I just couldn’t buy it. It seemed a little forced, like these two just had to be together, but I guess by the end I was like, “Okay, I could maybe see something happening,” but that wasn’t till the end of the book when they had gone their separate ways and I really wanted them back together.
I don’t know. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t absolutely hate it.
Honestly though, and that writing friend of mine were talking about this, but this girl could have her own book. Just think about it.
All her life everyone in her village knew she would be taken. She couldn’t date guys because she would be taken. She’s the most beautiful girl in the village. Why wouldn’t the Dragon take her? But then he doesn’t. All those goodbyes said, all the preparation, and it doesn’t happen.
Kasia doesn’t luck out though in all the drama and action. She’s thrown into the Wood’s corruption and Agnieszka fights to bring her friend out of it. I can’t say the story would’ve been better without Kasia, or she wasn’t needed. For a time, I thought that she wasn’t important, but Novik gave her a purpose to the point where if Kasia hadn’t been there, things would’ve turned out a little different by the end.
Hate. Hate. Hate. Hate. Hate. Hate. Him. Freakin, mama’s boy. Never let’s things go. Almost raped Agnieszka. Doesn’t care about people and you’ll see when you read this. He’s creepy and don’t even get me started on his wizard friend.
I love how this was a standalone novel. As much as I’d love more of these characters, this book was just perfect the way it was with a heroine, a villain, side bad guys, a mentor, and side characters. Everything fit together like a puzzle and ended on a perfect note. This was honestly the kind of story I would love to write someday. Not exactly like it, but how it was written, if that makes sense. I would highly, highly recommend checking it out if your haven’t already added it to your TBR list!
If you’ve read this, what’s your opinion on Sarkan and Nieszka? Honestly, I’m really curious about what other people think about their relationship.
What did you think of the story?