fulfilling my 2019 goal to read (at least) one book each month that i bought in hardcover and put off reading long enough that it is now in paperback.
although i know, with my logic-brain and my experiences and my readers’ advisory training, that not every book is going to “work” for every reader, i always feel a little bit guilty, a little bit broken, when a wildly popular book i had every expectation of loving falls short for me.
and in this case, i’m not even sure why we didn’t click.
its hooks hooked me: it’s a fairytaleish book with a spooky forest and a mysterious castle and an enigmatic wizard and a village with a long-standing and creepy tradition of gifting a young woman to the enigmatic wizard in the mysterious castle every ten years.
it’s got a magical freaking library.
and that cover. o, that delicious cover.
everyone raved, everyone who knew my tastes said i would love it, and on paper, i should have loved it. but i struggled.
for starters, i never really connected with the characters. it doesn’t bother me that agnieszka is a food-covered klutz in torn dresses. i know some people are so over the clumsy heroine trope, but us sloppy girls gotta stick together, and agnieszka was so borderline slapstick with her pratfalls and porridge-hair it didn’t read as helpless hapless girl so much as pathological, like she was magnetized towards mud. but her transition from “who, me?” to ‘NOW I KNOW ALL THE MAGICS!’ was muted, making her triumphs seem sudden and unearned while so many other parts of the book were draggy. i did like kasia, and i appreciated how her friendship with agnieszka was written, but all this other stuff kept getting in the way of novik developing that friendship, ultimately reducing kasia from who she was to what she could do; making her a tool, not a character. sarkan? i got nothing. he barely registered for me.
which brings us to the romance element. that this didn’t interest me is no surprise. literary relationshipping surprises me when i do give a hoot about it—my expectation is that i will blah blah through the smooching parts until the book gets back to the good stuff. but this time, i didn’t even understand it; how it happened, where and when the attraction blossomed. it’s like when two people you’ve known for a long time suddenly hook up and there’s this whole new dynamic to process and the ‘wait, you kiss each other now?’ thing is very confusing.
i liked some of the battle parts, but for every sequence i enjoyed, there were pages of “i throw the magic at YOU!” “no, but i throw the magic back at YOU! PYEW! PYEW!” and i’m like “wake me when you get some battle rhinos.”
all of that and there’s nothing overt that i can point to and say “that’s where it lost me. that’s what i didn’t like.” it wasn’t that it was unenjoyable or a chore to read, it just never made my readerheart sparkle.
three perfectly fine