“There was a song in this forest, too, but it was a savage song, whispering of madness and tearing and rage.”
A village lies at the edge of the corrupted Wood, whose malevolent presence forces its villagers to rely upon the wizard Dragon to protect them. In payment, he takes one girl from the village every ten years, and Agnieska is chosen as his next candidate.
This book is about Agnieska learning how to conquer the evils of the Wood.
***Fantasy, Adult, Young Adult
This book legit scared me.
Why, you ask? Well, I will be the first to admit that I’m not the most sound when it comes to creepy books, but man was I spooked while reading this one. The sense of dread and fear of the unknown slowly yet surely impeded upon my being while I devoured this book at 2 in the morning, and I was positively drenched in goosebumps at one point.
Because for one thing, the mystery is the hook of this book. The author sows seeds of fear and doubt in your mind about whether characters are malicious villains or misguided souls, and I’m happy to say I rarely found answers. From Kasia, Marek, the Queen, to the Wood, I felt an empathy for every one of them even while I was scrambling to deduce their motives, and it was a guessing game that kept me continually intrigued by them.
Furthermore, I highly enjoyed the romance. I am sure there are (valid) rant reviews out there about how abusive the Dragon is, but I found him increasingly hilarious as the book went on. The fact that he never bends in his grumpy demeanor even in the face of his mistakes (which would usually irk me) made me laugh at how childish he was, and my interpretation of him was reaffirmed through Agnieska’s reaction to him as well.
As for the Agnieska herself, the author evolves this character from “messy and clumsy” to “wild and unrestrained,” and it was a perspective shift that I loved: Agnieska turns her supposed weaknesses into strengths, and that made her journey of empowerment and love all the more satisfying for me. Not to mention, her strong female friendship with Kasia was heart-warming to see as it further strengthened this character’s values.
Now for a few (negligible) critiques, I wish there had been a longer setup at the start of this story. I highly appreciated its buildup and momentum as Agnieska grew into a strong, confident, and self-aware heroine, but because her story kicks in only around the point that she meets the Dragon, their relationship felt almost insta-lovey and abrupt.
Similarly, the fact that Agnieska’s self-awareness does not extend as deeply to her family as it did to her lover or best friend made it appear as though she was born out of thin air. Agnieska reflects upon her sadness of being torn away from home only rarely (and her family were minor characters who did not contribute much to her evolution), and that made me think the author had missed a chunk of Agnieska’s foundation as a character.
Nonetheless, this book is a thrilling standalone with strong characters, decisive morals, creepy world-building, and a triumphant finish. It would have benefited from a stronger family element to round out Agnieska’s character, but it was otherwise a full and diverse meal that left me intrigued from start to finish.
“But she hadn’t been able to take root. She’d remembered the wrong things, and forgotten too much. She’d remembered how to kill and how to hate, and she’d forgotten how to grow.”
I positively dreaded reading this book due to its hype, but I was tremendously surprised to find myself immersed in its atmosphere right off the bat. It is a very well-written standalone that sucked me in straightaway, and I had a hard time putting it down.
So if you enjoyed books like Circe by Madeline Miller (witch magic is very similar), Bear and the Nightingale (fear of the unknown in the woods), or Golem and the Jinni (nuanced hate to love romance between magical beings), I’d recommend for ages 15 and up.
Bottom line: Thrilling, atmospheric, cathartic
Man this book is thrilling. It continues to build its intrigue in a way that keeps you hungry, and the finale did not disappoint. In that I give this book a strong 4.5 frogs: it is a fast-paced yet contemplative standalone, and I was left utterly satisfied.
Rating: 4.5/5 frogs