Typically with most books, I fall into one of three categories: loved it and it was amazing, hated it and everything was trash, or it was alright and nothing really jumped out. It’s very rare that I find a book with elements I love so fiercely while also harboring great frustration over other elements. But before I get into that, you need to know what this book is about.
Agnieszka’s valley has grown accustomed to their annual sacrifice. The wizard in the tower at the edge of the valley, known as The Dragon, will protect them from the evil magic of The Wood if they give him a 17-year-old girl once every ten years. The girl will spend those ten years in the tower with The Dragon, and they never return home when he releases them ten years later. When Agnieszka is taken, much to her surprise, she find The Dragon is both exactly and not at all what he seems.
Now, I can’t say I expected the story to take us through most of Agnieszka’s ten years in the tower, but I didn’t expect her to be able to leave so quickly. After some triggering events requiring her to make a great escape from the tower, I was left wondering where the story would go because it couldn’t be the end to her time with The Dragon, and it certainly wasn't. The book kept me so interested because I utterly could not guess where it was going next. All my expectations kept being subverted by a subplot being wrapped up quickly or the general plot taking a turn I didn’t expect.
The biggest thing that utterly captivated me more than anything else was the way the magic system functioned in this book. Every spell cast was like a gorgeous song singing straight into your soul. Naomi Novik had an incredible way of associating the feeling of magic to tangible elements, a feeling that helped you connect to the fictitious elements of the novel. Every description of every spell was pure, gorgeous lyricism that took my breath away more than once.
While the magic system was well crafted and not all powerful (the characters couldn’t just do anything with it whenever they wanted to), our main character seemed to find a way around this rule without much explanation. The Dragon learns quickly upon taking Agnieszka that she has the gift for magic, but true to her character's nature she’s a disaster with it. I expected her to get better over time and grow as a character, but her magic just seemed to explode into full fruition too easily about midway through the book. Instead of bumbling she's suddenly a powerful sorceress and it was too much.
Overall, I enjoyed the book very much and the writing is gorgeous, but there were quite a few things that gave me pause or made me frustrated because they could have been a little clearer or otherwise left out entirely. Overall I would rate this book three and a half stars.