This book was my first ever book purchase based on a booktuber’s recommendation very early on in my blogging days. I even started reading it then but found myself not interested after a couple of chapters, so it’s been languishing on my bookshelf for more than two years now. When one of my book clubs chose it as our February BOTM, I decided it was finally time for me to take it out and push myself to finish it this time. And finish I did, but I’m feeling so unsure right now.
This is a book that won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, so one would assume that it’s brilliant, but I’ve not had many good experiences with award winning titles, so I definitely went into it with lowered expectations. The writing can surely be called beautiful, poetic even in places, and it’s very successful in creating a certain atmosphere that permeates throughout the book. But it also lends itself to being overly descriptive (which I tend to hate) and there were many instances where I was confused and had to go back to understand what the author meant. The pacing of the story is quite slow and it doesn’t really pick up even during the major action sequences, so I was bored many a times. I don’t know if I would have been able to finish the book if I wasn’t so determined to. And if we come to the plot, there’s not a lot that actually happens and even cutting it by a 100 or so pages wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
The world here is both fascinating and vague – giving just enough information so that we can follow the story but not enough detail that we can feel immersed in it. The magic system also felt so all over the place – there were hardly any rules or limits and the characters could pretty much do anything, but the way it was described was very captivating and I was impressed, though a tad confused as well. The author takes a lot of inspiration from Polish folklore and that shines through, which made for a very unique fantasy world and I really loved that part.
Agnieszka is a naive sheltered girl who enjoys the outdoors a lot and her life completely changes when she is chosen by the dragon. She is a kind, compassionate and very loyal person and can be fiercely protective of anyone she loves which I really admired about her. On the other hand, once she discovers her magical abilities, it’s like she can do so much of it which no one else has ever been able to do, and some of it even very old and seasoned sorcerers can’t understand – I’m pretty much tired of this trope where the main character suddenly becomes all powerful. The Dragon (or Sarkun) is a very disgruntled, douchey, almost immortal sorcerer who is mean (bordering on abusive) towards her and I’m really over such characters too. I could understand that he was the way he was because he was too scared to put down roots and let others into his life knowing he will outlive them, but that still doesn’t excuse most of his behavior towards her at the beginning.
I was glad when they achieved a sort of truce and started practicing together. It was obvious from the beginning that it would turn into a romance and while I liked the way it eventually ended up being, I didn’t really like the path it took to get there. There just wasn’t enough believability in their love story and I think it needed more fleshing out. I also think I didn’t feel invested in them as individuals, so I wasn’t emotionally attached to their relationship either.
Kasia, who is Agnieszka’s best friend was probably my favorite of the lot. Her life takes paths she never expected to but she overcomes all the obstacles she is thrown and emerges stronger, always standing up for herself and those in need. The Wood itself is an all encompassing villainous presence throughout the story and while I could totally feel it’s menacing effects, I can’t say I completely understood what happened towards the end. There were a couple more interesting characters like Marek, Solya and Alosha but I wish they had gotten a bit more development.
To conclude, I think this book had a lot of potential but it faltered in its execution. If you enjoy beautiful writing and atmospheric, whimsical fairytale like settings, then this book might be a good choice for you. If you like more character development as well as a well realized world and magic system, I feel this might leave you disappointed. I still am glad that I finally got to read such an acclaimed book and see what the hype was all about.