I read this book about 3-May-2016. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 2015. This note was last modified Sunday, 08-May-2016 21:45:07 PDT.
This note contains spoilers for the book.
A new world, from the author of the fun Temeraire books. And it's up for the Hugo this year.
So far, it looks to have every right to be up for the Hugo this year.
Each decade, the villages in the valley give one girl to the Dragon, their wizard lord (he's human, though old and a powerful wizard, not some fire-breathing reptile; I don't think we've heard where the name comes from yet.) This year, he chooses the wrong girl—not the beautiful Kasia but the tomboy Agnieszka. Who, it turns out, is a witch herself.
It's Angieszka's first-person story. She has a whole different approach to magic from the Dragon; he's a scientist, she's an engineer, basically (or perhaps an artist?). I think she's lucky not to kill herself, ignoring warnings, and there seems to be decent reason to believe that the warnings are real, not just the Dragon's view of things. Running out of energy part-way through a working, say. And she's even managing to get the Dragon to realize that her approach works too, and they're even learning to combine them to get more powerful results.
The Dragon does have a tendency to not try things he's not sure will work, and to insist on being perfectly prepared before starting anything. This doesn't always work so well against opponents with some agency.
And that evil wood, whatever is at the core of it, seems to be pretty smart. It's been eating up the valley for the last few decades; that's right, it's winning.
It's really a bad idea to rescue the Queen, who has been in the wood for 20 years or so. But they did rescue Kasia, so it's hard to argue against to her son or husband (though her husband doesn't actually want her back). There's always an issue with what "big" risks are worth running to keep faith with individuals. And, in the real world, that decision hardly ever really comes up, but in a fantasy world with serious magic, it really can. I'd be happier if the book could at least take some sort of swing at the problem, rather than just pointing out that it exists. (This was a regular problem on Buffy, too, and they always made it work out well in the end.)
Wait, what's this? P. 230 (just short of half, looks like), and suddenly there's an "archbishop"? With no previous talk of religion or priests of any kind? And Agnieszka is crossing herself, which almost nails down the religion, and eliminates the possibility that the religion only exists in the capital. In what has previously been an unconnected fantasy world? Damn; lost major points there. It can't be that invisible and that instinctive at the same time, damnit.
Agniezska does less well, of course, in the capital. And the Wood has agents or at least influence everywhere it seems.
Alosha qualifies as a full-on badass. Wizard smith, and she's been forging this ultimate sword for 100 years, and it's good for only one strike. But it's a hell of a strike; she says it will kill anything
Okay, I've seen this so often it's not an accident. Agniezska thinks something, and a wizard nearby responds as if she's said it. And she doesn't ever seem to think this unusual. She hasn't met wizards before the book, remember, so she can't have gotten used to it. So either this has to be explained somehow, or it's an annoying WTF.
Fight scenes run kind of slowly; not sure why, maybe too much realism or something.
Clearly a society of wizards is the solution to losing all your friends to old age. Also the solution to losing your lovers that way. I see they do get around to that, before the final battle.
Wait, she gives Alosha's sword to Kasia without telling her it's a one-shot? That sure looks like the mistake that ruins everything. Also I suspect they need it worse on the attack than in a last-ditch hopeless defense after both wizards are dead. Oh, maybe Kasia will come to the rescue just before then? But yikes, stupid allocation of resources.
Huh; origin story for the Wood Queen, I think. I'd been assuming there wasn't time left to wrap up those threads, but maybe there is; maybe the big story will actually get ended (the book begins in the last chapter of the big story, which starts with the event leading eventually to the evil Wood.
Called it! They get driven all the way down to the tomb, where Kasia and the children are, and after Kasia melts her own sword (and the queen's armor) fighting the queen, she draws Alosha's sword and gets a good hit on the queen's neck. Not a full success, but at least it drives her out of her body and away from them (presumably back into the wood). So...main problem not solved, at least so far.
But Agnieszka and Sarkan are heading into the woods for a final try. Now, previously, the Wood getting a wizard was very bad; it gave the Wood power. And here we're offering two. I guess it's time for the final total throw of the dice. Only 35 pages left to wind this up.
Found the central grove of heart-trees. Found body of the Wood Queen. Even the potion of Fire Heart isn't doing too well. A lightning bolt does damage to the tree, but it doesn't harm the Queen, and she takes Agnieszka and...shuts here in a the damaged heart tree. Dear me. Well, 30 pages to go.
So she gets a more detailed history of what happened, and then finds her way back into the present via the beacon Sarkan manages for her.
And Sarkan is off the city again to clean things up there, and she won't go; she goes to clean up the wood. Makes friends with the walkers, even, and rescues a few people recently taken, and cleans some trees up, and burns some of the worst ones. The walkers help; they seem to be the gardeners of the forest.
Manages to be home for fall festival. And Sarkan shows up, providing the happy ending.
I feel like I'm being snarky in at least the last half of the writing here, and the book doesn't deserve as much of it as I seem to need to deliver. I'm not sure why I feel like delivering it.
I'm not the biggest fan of fantasy, and fairy-tale basis is not my favorite; I never liked fairy tales. The characters seemed shallow to me, their motivations unvelievavle, the world clearly dancing to some invisible puppeteer (who I later identified as "the author"). Maybe that's part of it?
This is really very good, even though it goes against many of my easy likes. I don't know how I'll vote on the Hugos (this is the first of the new works I'm reading), but I'm sure it'll be above No Award :-) .