3 / 5 Stars
Firstly, I'd like to apologise, because this review is going to be slightly grumpy. It's not the author's fault so much as EVERY author who invokes this particular ire in me - so I'd just like to emphasise that Novik is not being singled out here.
So - a quick summary first. Agnieszka, a gawky gal living in a village by an ominous wood, is surprised when 'the dragon' (a wizardy dude to you and me) picks her to be his companion. While she's with him, she displays an uncanny knack for intuitive magic; which puts her in a perfect position to rescue her chum Kasia from the evil wood, not to mention the Queen later on.
Without giving too much away, she manages to sort out the wood problem, resolve the issues for the royal family, and nail the wizard too. Good going, girlfriend!
Okay, so let's start with what I liked about this book. It was well written, with some fun characters, and I liked the rural setting; it was a nice, fresh interpretation of of the typical fantasy landscape. I was interested enough to keep reading, and that's always a good thing.
However (and here's the rant - sorry!) there are certain literary tropes that I am getting a bit tired of, and all seem to be on display in this book. The awkward, not so attractive girl that manages to bag the guy. The older, gruff man who succumbs to her charms. The 'hidden' powers, suddenly blossoming forth and saving the day. These felt fresh a few years back, when everyone was kicking against the whole 'Prince Charming' trope, but to be honest, they're feeling a bit tired now.
I also wasn't mad keen on nature represented as a force of evil to be dominated by humans; though I did think the author did a banging job of describing the wood (it was very menacing). I'd have liked the woods to have had a cast-iron reason for wanting to obliterate humans - perhaps because they're cutting down trees / acting like selfish gits and abusing the planet? (Just a thought).
This wasn't the book for me. But hey, what do I know - look at all those sparkling reviews. This is obviously just a case of me being a grumpy old so-and-so and not getting it! I wouldn't hesitate to read something else by this author, because she does some fabulous descriptions - she writes in a rich, evocative way.