“If you don’t want a man dead, don’t bludgeon him over the head repeatedly.”

What is this book about?

The story reads like a classic folktale. Set in a tiny village on the fringe of a dangerous wood guarded by a fearsome wizard named the Dragon, once every ten years, the Dragon comes down from his tower to snatch away a single girl from the village to whisk away for the decade. Agnieszka is born just in time to be part of this decades reaping, however, everyone knows it will be Kasia, her best friend and the most beautiful, kind and clever girl in the village that will be chosen this year.

Except it isn’t.

So what does happen to the girls the Dragon takes away? And what’s to be done about the ever-encroaching Woods insidiously creeping across the valley, swallowing more and more towns in its wake?

Why is it boring?

The protagonist was a bit of a cliche. She’s messy, clumsy, and unrefined. I found her getting on my nerves quite often, and while thankfully she wasn’t a completely incompetent damsel, the attempts at forcing her into the reader’s affections with her cloddish charms were transparently unimpressive. The awkward romance (if lust doesn’t more aptly define it) shoehorned into the plot seemed so out of the blue, unnecessary and irrational. There was no chemistry, and I’d sooner write it off as a sad tale of Stockholm Syndrome than a romance. But again, thankfully there are more pressing concerns so it doesn’t take up much of the story.

Plot wise, I have to admit, once it gathered momentum it was a straight-downhill tumble with no respite. It just keeps coming, there’s no breathing time. No snack breaks. The obstacles in this novel were like a hydra; one head cut only meant two more taking its place. While that made for a fast-paced, action-packed read, it was also incredibly exhausting.

The concept of magic also left a lot to be desired. I get it; magic doesn’t need an explanation in all those fairy tales, and in that sense it could be excused, but sometimes it seemed too-easy a solution where some actual problem-solving and clever thinking would have been a lot more entertaining to read.

Who would you recommend it to?

I have to admit, I was whisked away by the beautiful folk-tale feel of this story. It wasn’t like the G-rated Disney recreations of classic Grimm tales – this was a dark fairy story right out of ancient Eastern-European coffers. If you’re a fan of fairy tale re-imaginings or classic folk tales with gothic undertones, this book is definitely worth looking in to.

Why should I read it if it’s boring?!

This was laced with all those terrifying monsters under beds and cautionary tales that end with a grisly gory death or being kidnapped by horrifying creators to be dragged into the heart of the woods. While the leading characters failed to catch my heart (which really is a must for me to truly enjoy a book) the world-building and imagining of the Wood were strong enough to make it a worthwhile recommendation. I really enjoyed the dark undertones and gothic feel of the Woods; the descriptions of the sinister magic lurking in its shadows and slipping into the villages to wreak havoc were an absolute delight.

Rating: 3/5

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Tharuka lives in Western Australia, gradually working her way through law school and life in general. When she isn’t procrastinating study or working, you can find her living off tea, biscuits, and the neighbourhood gossip as she makes her way through her ever-expanding personal library of sci-fi and fantasy.

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