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.
Comment: Months ago, I got interested in this novel because it was fantasy fairy tale for grown ups and I like the idea of authors using a fairy tale to create a whole new story but not the usual YA setting which I tend do avoid. It also helped readers mentioned a romance element and I was sold.
This is a story loosely based on the Baba Yaga legend, using traditional Polish tales.
Every ten years, a wizard man called The Dragon goes to a village near his Tower and takes a young girl to be his servant. After the ten years, the girl is returned but soon leaves the village to be in a (often) better place somewhere.
The Dragon is keeping the area safe because it's close to The Wood, a forest area that is said to be corrupted by something evil and when someone gets there never returns, even if their bodies come back it's never the healthy sane person who entered.
This year, Agnieszka is chosen because she seems to have some magic in her, a detail the Dragon finds out in the choosing day. Since she arrives at the Tower, however, Agnieszka realizes her experience is different from every other girl before her and she will have a task that can save everyone...
Well, this is certainly a well researched and well structured story. It has so many elements and detail that it's impossible it didn't take a long time for all to be in the right place. It's definitely not a simply story nor an easy fairy tale to follow.
I think the best part of this novel is precisely the eye for detail when it came to describe things and how engaged the reader gets among so much information, something not always easy to accomplish.
What makes me grade this book slightly lower than what I expected is the tone of the story, it simply is too dark.
Has the author the right to write as she wants? Yes.
Is this story the tale the author wanted us to read? I'm sure yes.
Is this a well done story? Completely.
Did I enjoy reading it? Not much, no.
I can understand perfectly why this is a dark fantasy story, filled with death and violence, but it had a lot of unnecessary description of bad deeds. I would have felt the same despair and impotence had I heard about most of the acts committed without actually seeing them. I know this goes against most reader's notions on writing, where being shown is better than being told but for me, I would have preferred that in this book.
At the same time, it was quite clever and insidious who the villain managed to corrupt and indirectly influence so many characters. Should I deduce all characters except the hero and heroine were weak minded and easy to manipulate? It just feels too convenient and overly dramatic.
Then the end comes, it's both too easy and appropriate in my opinion. But I liked the sort of HEA that happened and how some character's fates got to be. Too bad the cast of dead people was way bigger than any goodness that we got out in the end.
As for the romance, which I was looking for, as usual in fantasy books where romance is clearly not the main focus, I thought it was too subtle for the most part. But it ended up with such a positive note I was able to imagine their lives after....
All things considered, this is not a bad book. But I hated seeing so many characters die for the sake of the plot and it wasn't fun most of the time. Yes, artistic license and author's choice, all that is perfectly acceptable but I can also choose to enjoy or not.
In terms of writing style, nothing to say, and several scenes/situations were intriguing and well inserted within the fantasy mold and fairy tale. I just wish the positive aspects were more than the dark, scaring ones.