By Naomi Novik

Rating: 4 stars

Agnieszka lives in a valley menaced by a Wood from which nothing that goes in comes out. Or at least, comes out unchanged. Their valley is protected by a powerful, unaging wizard called the Dragon, but he demands payment for his protection: every ten years he takes a young girl from the valley. Although everyone knows that this time round it will be beautiful, brave Kasia who will be picked, it isn’t, it’s Agnieszka. She leaves her valley behind and her world changes forever.

I really liked this book. Agnieszka’s story is great fun to follow, and the opening chapters are oddly funny. Although Agnieszka herself is terrified for a lot of it, as the reader, we’re already starting to see what she can’t through her fear, and that lends those chapters an element of farce, as the poor girl stumbles and wrecks everything she comes into contact with. Obviously this doesn’t last, and it’s a joy to see Agnieszka come into her power and start to drive the narrative.

In fact, this book doesn’t do something that often annoys me, particularly in books with female protagonists: Agnieszka is never passive. She needs a push to get going, but she chooses her own destiny. She drives every major decision in the book, and is never just caught up in events or pushed around from pillar to post and that’s something that I admire, both in the character and the author.

The book never hides from the consequences of violence. Agnieszka agonises over this even as she does what she must, but it’s never romanticised. Violence is shown for what it is: nasty and brutish.

The only bit that didn’t really convince was the romance. I can see where it came from, but I would have been just as happy without it. (Personally, I don’t think that every protagonist needs to find romance to have a happy ending, but that’s a rant for another day).

Book details

ISBN: 9781447294146
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Year of publication: 2015

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