I find this book is difficult to view as a single story. There are many aspects of the story which I enjoyed immensely and some aspects which were not well executed. I will start with the good, follow with the bad, and sum up with an overall impression.
The good. The story is unique and has the feeling of a fairy tale. Many scenes occur that would make John Donne seem concrete and grounded in his works. There is also a lot crammed into this story – which I enjoyed, but a lot of readers did not. I do admit the high number of events occurring makes the story seem like several different tales in one. But, I kind of liked that.
The magic is both familiar and strange. The author does suggest magic requires energy from the practice – which is fairly standard. Yet, the world’s magic is also a living thing. It can be navigated, persuaded, and felt – which felt different and yet right.
The villain is proper evil. The tale does not shy away from being dark where it is necessary. The villain takes countless lives to accomplish its end goal – devouring the entire land. Novik ensures the villain lacks compassion, kindness, any other than vengeance, which leaves us when a particularly gruesome and cruel enemy.
The bad. I shy away from calling things bad – I know authors work hard to deliver the best story they can in the best way they can. However, it is difficult to accept the romantic aspect of this story. Initially, it felt as though the story unfolding would be similar to Beauty and the Beast. Despite the many issues in that fairy tale, it holds a special place in my heart. (Belle really feel for the library – like any reader would. It is a story about a woman falling in love with a library! Not about Stockholm Syndrome. No, I refuse to see it through adult eyes!)
Anyway, I was expecting a similar tale. And in a way, it is. If the Beast never showed any kindness and stayed the grumpy, awful, rude animal he was at the start. The author made the male interest a patronising individual and, even after the tilt in the relationship where he begins to respect and admire the female lead, he never softens or shows true kindness. There are times in the story during which Sarkan’s heart seems to have softened and his gruff exterior seems to have been broken. But, unlike a Dalek, Sarkan is shown to have no gooey centre. To be fair if I met a person with special snowflake syndrome, I may not be very nice either. (I have worked over a century to be an expert at magic and after two weeks you are a million times better? That would piss me off too, Sarkan.)
It seems as though the author was trying to show the dangers of seclusion and living only for the pursuit of knowledge. Or, the hollowness of life without companionship. It is hinted at throughout the story. Perhaps, this was the role of Sarkan and the author failed to execute his redemption adequately. The lack of any clear character development in Sarkan leaves the reader uncomfortable with the knowledge the female lead is left in this odd and abusive relationship with a beast of a man.
Overall. Something about the book felt poetic and wonderfully unique. To get the most out of the story, I believe the reader needs to perceive it as a fairy tale that does not take itself too seriously. The story falls apart when you look at it through too fine a scope. Yet as a superficial read, it is entertaining and even enjoyable.
Be good to one another.
A Bookish Girl