by Naomi Novik
After enjoying one of the author's other books and hearing this one was good from many sources, I had to try it despite having little idea what it was about. As it turns out, I really enjoyed most of it!
Every ten years a girl is chosen by the local wizard to come live in his tower and rumors about what happens there are rife, though the girls always come back and insist the magician didn't lay a hand on them. They always end up leaving the village and finding a life for themselves elsewhere afterwards.
Meanwhile, the villagers live in the shadow of a forest that contains some sort of evil, with creatures who capture those who come too close and take them into the forest never to return.
This is one of the most original Fantasy stories I've read for a while. The magic is very well done and the characters are also done well, each of them distinctive in their own way. The challenges that face the main character, Agnieszka, range from trying to keep safe from the hazards of the forest to trying to help her best friend who is up against dangers from all sides, to dealing with the royal family and the pitfalls of murderous politics and the court wizards who see village girls as expendable at best.
It was a fascinating story and one that I kept going back to ahead of my other reads up until about the last third. Then it seemed to lose its way and become a little too surreal to hold attention. Many of the plot points were left unexplained, including why the magician specifically took a girl every ten years, although there was a reference to it with inadequate explanation.
It also hit one of my pet peeves with a single graphic sex scene. Why this has become a thing with recent books that wouldn't even be described as Romance much less Erotica I can't imagine. Yes the nature of the relationship was relevant but a move by move about who did what to which body part is completely unnecessary and ruins an otherwise good story! It also makes it unsuitable for young readers, who might have been a primary target audience for this story.
There was an end, but with too much left unexplained.