I never know to say in these things. I guess that says something about me. I read a lot, write stories, and like books. I like a good debate. Nothing else is to say. :-)
You know when there is so much you have to say about a book....but all the words just become too much, that you just can't do anything else but remain silent? This is where I am with this book.
I can say that I loved it.
It read like a fairy tale from your youth. Those stories about Kings, and Princes, witches and Dragons...and of course the magical, amazing girl that saves the kingdom from evil. It sounds like a horrible "Mary Sue" tale that could have ended in disaster. And yeah...it has all the elements of a marry sue: the powerful magical girl, who through she her pluckiness and bravery wins the hearts of everyone. I'm rolling my eye already. BUT....it all works in this book. It works so well.
Because yes, there is a handsome prince, but he is quickly shown as a terrible person blinded by his own privilege and ambitions. He wants our plucky heroine, but there is no love there...she is just another trophy to ambitions. A symbol of power for him to possess to add more luster to his growing legend. There is a fearsome Dragon, but he is just a tired old man, who hides behind his walls because he won't allow himself to care for a people that he knows he will out live many times over. Our Heroine breaks his shell...mainly by just breaking him out of his normal pattern. When he picked her, he broke from the usual pattern...and her ending up at his home, so unprepared and clueless, was just the nudge needed to break the cycle that land had been caught in for generations. And all she had to do was just be herself...dirty, clumsy, and loud and authentic.
I also liked that even with the worst of characters and the biggest Evil..The Wood. You still were able to sympathize with them. The Prince may have been misguided and terrible at points...but you understood how he might have turned out that way. You understood why he went into the Wood and took such a risk to find the Queen. And you feel sorry for him in the end. Because his life was one of sadness and loneliness, and constant search to find that one source of the only real love he ever had in his life. And that loss and the ambition around him twisted him into what he was today. And The Wood. What a story there. But also in the end...this terrible Evil, that caused so much damaged and hurt and loss of life...you feel sorry for it. Because it too was twisted into what it was by the actions of others and terrible betrayal. The story shows that "evil" is not that uncommon. All of us can be evil...if put in the right circumstances and with enough trauma.
I find that the message in this story was that settling and accepting thing as they are and not actively trying to change it, is what destroys us. Agnieszka was a very powerful witch, but her magic was not the accepted way of doing magic. So she would have been dismissed as a minor witch of no consequence and pushed aside. If the Dragon had not recognized that, yes, she is powerful and her magic works differently than mine, but it can be useful if she is encouraged to learn...nothing that happened in this book would have occurred. And the Wood would have won. The Dragon was willing to put aside his ego and the "right" way of doing things and take the risk and try a new way. They tell us this in IT work as well. That people become stagnant. That what kills innovation and growth most out of everything is the attitude :"Well, this is how we have always done it." By limiting magic to only what some "experts' said was acceptable, they limited themselves. Once they accepted change as something good and needed....then things improved. But you have to get up and do it. You could not hide behind walls like the Dragon; or laws like the King and Prince, or books and studies like the other wizards, or behind mistrust and hate... you had to be willing to take the risk and change. It may not work and you may fail and be hurt and destroyed...like The Wood...but take the leap and you may make a better life. Take the risk. Put yourself out there. Try, don't just accept. Then the reward can be great.
So I think this is the best spoiler free review I can give. And a in final note: I almost gave this 5 stars just for the sex scene, which read like a scene out of romance novel. Not what you usually read in a fantasy novel: usually rape, abuse or rutting in a whore house. This was great. More of this!