Tuesday, 29 March 2016

My thirteenth writing-related blog post is dedicated to various miscellaneous writing-related things

For the first time since the start of the year I failed to make a blog post on Tuesday. I had a busy day and came home late and tired and could do nothing but have a late supper and then curl on my bed and watch TV, while the weather in all its unstable variability, as winter and spring battle for dominance, has been playing havoc with my head and my blood pressure so that I had to lie down and keep my head propped by a number of pillows so that the Earth didn’t move so fast. However, I’m going to write this blog post even if it’s going to be very short. I just need a little more time. Here are just a few writing-related things that I’ve been thinking about. 

A few weeks ago I was working on my Regency WIP, writing a scene that had been living in my mind for years – ever since I first got the idea for the novel. It was one of those scenes I’d been really looking forward to writing, because it was the scene where my main heroine and hero finally met. I greatly enjoyed writing it, building up on what I’d dreamed it would be like as well as on my previous draft. But it was only when I was reading the scene out loud to my critique partner that I realized just how great it made me feel – in a very real, very physical way, you know. I felt pure joy and it filled me up to the brim. I was laughing with them and reveling in their silly, flirty, frivolous and fun interaction. I honestly don’t remember ever feeling like that while writing before. 

On the other hand, having the first chapter of my fairy-tale critiqued by a bunch of strangers who had also taken part in the competition I wrote about before made me feel really low so much so that the next week after that was not productive at all. It’s not that I still believe in my genius or something like that. It’s just that creating this world and writing this chapter was lots of fun for me and I imagined that the others would find it so too. However, their reaction was rather startling for me, because they found it strange, negative and depressing and the majority said that they would not buy this book for their children. It was just the first chapter but they expected to find all the answers there and I felt like they wanted it to be a perfect world just because it was a fairy-tale for children. I’m used to critique and I believe I take it fairly well but I think that in this case they didn’t even bother to try and understand it at all. 

Another thing that has been nagging me was the downside of being a famous author like J.K. Rowling. I’m slightly obsessed with the idea of becoming a famous author myself but when I see how everything that she says and does is studied under the microscope and dissected and turned inside out and how often she is abused for no apparent reason online I get the feeling that it’s not really worth it. There’s been a recent post which suggested that she should stop using Twitter to express her opinions and views, answer her fans’ questions and talk about her characters, because the person who wrote that piece wanted her to leave the world of Harry Potter behind for good, because, apparently, that’s what she herself had done and so now she wants it to stay put in a cupboard of her childhood or something, complaining that J.K. Rowling is talking too much and that she should keep her mouth shut, because she spoils everything by speaking her mind, sharing  causes that she supports, expressing her concerns, sympathizing or encouraging some lucky fan who managed to catch her eye in the avalanche of tweets that she no doubt gets. But no, she should just shut up. Let that sink in while I’m taking a deep breath… 

I mean, seriously? SERIOUSLY?!! Everyone can use and abuse Twitter but not Jo? What’s up with that? Does she belong to a different species or something? It’s like anyone can tell her what they want and don’t want her to do and write just because she’s J.K. Rowling and they believe she owes them something. It galls me when someone starts telling that they know better what she should write about and whether she should continue with the world of Harry Potter or let other people contribute instead, because it’s not only her world any more. That last piece comes from another idiotically delusional online article, posted some time ago, whose author believes in fans’ entitlement to do whatever they want with the characters and the fictional world they belong to once it’s out there – well, that’s bollocks in my book, that’s what! I think J.K. Rowling can play with her world as long as she wants to, bringing joy to those of us who can truly appreciate it, because I know that I’m hardly the only one who wants more - but, you know, authored by the woman herself.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

12: Про мрії та пошуки: мрію про власне видавництво, шукаю однодумців (серед авторів, художників та читачів)

Колись я гадала, що надрукувати книжку та стати відомим на весь світ письменником дуже просто. Звісно, то було до того як я стала дорослою, написала свою першу книжку та зрозуміла, що це зовсім не так, бо світ літератури зовсім не чекає на мене із розпростертими обіймами, і що я далеко не єдина, хто мріє побачити свої книжки на полицях книгарень – а ще краще, в серцях мільйонів читачів. Так, я люблю помріяти. Кажуть, це не шкідливо. Тож, чому б ні? Та все ж деяким авторам це таки вдається, чи не так? Звісно, я маю на увазі, не мріяти, не причиняючи собі шкоди, а стати відомими та улюбленими на весь світ. От тільки, як виявилося, написати книгу то не є проблема для людини з літературним хистом, фантазією та палким бажанням це зробити. Надрукувати її – ото зовсім інша справа. Наразі, мені здається, що це просто неможливо, якщо ви не знаменитість та не маєте знайомих серед видавців. 

З того часу як я вирішила, що неодмінно напишу книжку українською (бо до цього я писала переважно англійською), я почала слідкувала за різними видавництвами та за новинами в книжковому світі України. Нажаль, видавництва, які найбільш за все мене приваблюють (тим як вони працюють із авторами та високою якістю своїх книжок), занадто зайняті різними проектами, перекладами популярних творів іноземних авторів, та книжками вже відомих авторів у нас в країні. Так одне видавництво наразі не розглядає рукописи. З другим навіть зв’язатися не можливо. А третє просто ігнорує всі мої спроби достукатися до них із своїм запитанням. Тож на минулих вихідних я вирішила пошукати інші видавництва та, може навіть, знайти те саме видавництво, яке б згодом надрукувало мою казку. Нажаль, видавництв в Україні не так вже й багато, а таких, які готові співпрацювати з авторами «без імені» зовсім мало. До того ж, треба враховувати напрямок видавництва, чи працюють вони з книжками та авторами на гідному рівні, чи займаються промоцією авторів та книжок, і чи роблять ілюстрації та ще й які. 

Бо, мені здається, що моя казка то є справжнісінький рай для художника-ілюстратора. От я і мрію про яскраву книжку з великою купою ілюстрацій. Тільки видавництво про яке я так давно мріяла вже не приймає рукописів на розгляд через переповнений видавничий портфель та найближчим часом приймати до розгляду не буде... Тож я склала список із чотирьох (лише чотирьох!) видавництв, які можуть зацікавитися моїм проектом, а можуть і не зацікавитися. То справа така. Пощастить – не пощастить. А ще прочитавши інформацію про різні видавництва, я дійшла висновку, що багато видавництв в нашій країні то є суто сімейна справа чи то справа між друзяками та знайомими; деякі були сформовані заради того, щоб надрукувати одну єдину книжку; майже всі орієнтуються на перевидання класики та творів видатних іноземних авторів; дуже мало хто з видавництв займається промоцією, та ще менша кількість дає шанс новим, вітчизняним авторам. Звісно, це все мої власні висновки, і якщо вони хибні, то я буду тільки рада. 

А, поки що, дивлячись на цю невтішну та безперспективну картину, виникла ідея-мрія заснування власного видавництва. Звісно, я мріяла про це і раніше, але в той час я ще повністю не усвідомлювала наскільки важливим це буде для мене в майбутньому. Насправді, це те, про що я не наважувалася думати серйозно, бо розуміла як це складно та може навіть нездійсненно, але настав той момент, коли я зрозуміла, що я маю це зробити, чи хоча б спробувати. Та я розумію, що не зможу зробити це наодинці. Мені потрібні однодумці та мрійники, потрібна команда завзятих, ідейних, творчих та, разом із тим, практичних людей, кожен з яких буде займатися своєю конкретною справою. Я ще тільки починаю думати про концепцію видавництва, але гадаю, що це буде видавництво, яке буде працювати не тільки на читачів, а і на авторів. Це буде видавництво, яке буде друкувати якісні книжки та просувати своїх авторів, формувати тісний зв’язок з книгарнями, читачами, бібліотеками, проводити різноманітні літературні заходи та читання, співпрацювати з іноземними видавництвами, а також розвивати свою присутність он-лайн. Звісно, на все це потрібні кошти та вільний час, яких в мене наразі нема. Та все це попереду. Бо є мрія. А одже це вже початок!

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

My eleventh writing-related blog post is all about books and what makes them timeless and universal

Pre-discussion questions to consider: What makes books timeless and universal in your opinion? What books come to mind when you think about that? Can it be achieved through captivating writing, spot-on characterization and vivid world-building alone? Or is there something more at play? 

Today I’d like to talk about books. Do you ever marvel at how many books there are in the world? Do you ever feel sad or frustrated at the fact that you will never be able to read all of them? That you won’t get to know about many of them? I often think about books, especially those that leave an everlasting mark in the world beyond that of literature and have a most profound effect on people and their lives. There are a lot of great books. There are a lot of great books that you read only once and never come back to again. There are a lot of great books that get forgotten with time and never taken up again. There are a lot of great books that never reach the readers at all and no one knows just how great they are or what they have missed. There are books that are not at all great but that become famous or, rather, infamous. There are books that set trends and inspire short-lived fads and obsessions. But then there are books that are timeless, that capture our hearts, that impact our lives, that compel us to come back to them again and again. They have countless editions, websites dedicated to them, fanfics, fanart, movies, series, millions of fans all over the world, they appeal to people of different ages and they pass from generation to generation… I’d like to talk about such books and try and figure out what makes them timeless, universal and classic and whether it is something that can be acquired and applied to my own books. 

I know there are quite a few books that fall into this category (though, admittedly, a tiny percentage if we take all fiction books out there) but I would like to look at and analyze the two series that I’m completely and totally obsessed with: Harry Potter and Anne of Green Gables. If you’ve read them you know that they are very different and yet with similar, unfading, universal appeal and legions of fans all over the world. So what is it about them that converts people and makes them fans for life? I personally believe that if you’ve read either and felt no desire whatsoever to want to devour them all over again straight away or to find yourself inside them that you just didn’t get them, because you can’t have read them and felt nothing. These books are imbued with powerful magic the like of which is extremely rare and if you haven’t felt it than you’re probably a muggle – the worst sort of muggle there is. I’m kind of happy now that no one reads my blog, because I’m sure I would get a lot of flak for saying that. But that’s the truth! You are! 

Anyway, the first thing that comes to mind when I think about why I love them so much and why they are so popular with people in general is their beautiful, quirky and unforgettable settings. Hogwarts. Hogsmead. Diagon Alley. Avonlea. Green Gables. People love those places! They even recreated them in real life! So if you have enough money, you can even go and find yourself inside your favourite book! Not many authors can boast to have inspired something like that and it's really something incredible, something beyond my wildest dreams, something a lot of authors aspire to, I'm sure. There are many books that I really liked but that never found a home in my heart, because they failed to capture me with their world-building, by making it too dangerous and quite impossible to live in. I think there should be a balance between the bad and the good, the beautiful and the ugly, the light and the dark, the normal and the bizarre. The aforementioned books keep the balance perfectly and make you want to be a part of their world. 

Also both series explore universal themes that will never become out-of-date or out-of-fashion: the search for home, for love, for friends, for kindred spirits; the wish to belong, to be understood, to be accepted; the pain of being an outsider, a nobody, being different; the choices that we make, the abilities that define us, the mistakes that ruin our lives and have unpredictable consequences; the death of loved ones and the wish to bring them back, etc.. They are full of words of profound, poignant, eternal wisdom that we keep on the most important shelves of our memories and quote whenever the occasion is right, when we come face to face with fellow fans or when we just want to appear really clever and witty. 

Then there are the characters. Not just the main ones. The secondary ones. Even the tertiary ones. They all represent a certain type - a stereotype, if you will - that we can either relate to or say that we know exactly someone like that; they all have a particular feature or features that stand out or set them apart or make them instantly recognizable and memorable – but with all that it doesn’t make them one-dimensional or flat due to the mastery and genius of their creators. They have many layers to them, layers that we discover with time. I think it’s important for a character to have a feature or a trait that grabs our attention and helps us define and identify them before exploring them further. They are real. They are real to us. We feel like we know them. We feel like they would understand us like no one else. We want to be their friends, partners, adversaries. They make us experience real emotions. They become part of our life. 

Some other things that make a book special for me are, of course, the story, the voice, the humour, the language and the way the author has with words. I suppose a lot of great books have these components and many others that I haven’t mentioned and yet they fail to leave a lasting mark. I honestly believe that there’s got to be something else: something that cannot be explained by logic or analysis, something that is pure magic - a final drop that turns an ordinary concoction into a magical potion. No matter how gifted you are, how honed your craft is, how many books you’ve written or how many formulas you’ve tried – there’s one ingredient at least that is beyond your control. It’s like being lucky. You can’t generate it. You can’t explain it. 

But I can’t help wondering, you know, if any of my past, present or future books and characters have what it takes to capture hearts, to inspire fandoms and followings, and remain with their readers for the rest of their lives and beyond? 

Favourite books - what makes them timeless and universal? bit.ly/1RjW0S1 via @faridamestek (Click to tweet

Harry Potter and Anne of Green Gables – what makes these books timeless and universal? bit.ly/1RjW0S1 via @faridamestek (Click to tweet)

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

My tenth writing-related blog post in which I go down the memory lane and look at all the publishing mistakes that I've made

Two heavily self-pity-riddled posts later, I've finally pulled myself together. I'm bursting with ideas for books I want to write as well as for writing-related blog posts and I'm filled with hope and optimism again. I guess letting oneself wallow in misery and self-pity is a kind of therapy after all. Today I'm going down the memory lane just for the heck of it, looking back at all the newbie publishing mistakes that I've made. Trust me, I've made more than a few. The good thing is that I've learned my lesson, right? However, looking back, I can justify myself by saying that I desperately wished to be published. I still do, of course, but I'm better at controlling my publishing-related urges now and I know that I mustn't rush headlong into another publishing enterprise. Here is the evidence of my failed attempts for everyone to see and learn what not to do!

I completed my first book (a novella-length fairy-tale) in 2005 and, fully convinced of my genius and feeling that I've created an actual masterpiece, I started sending out submissions — only to receive rejection after rejection after rejection. Of course, looking back I can plainly see the reason why (that book while charming was absolutely awful - if that makes any sense) but back then it was a terrible blow to my writing ego and to all of my hopes. I didn't complete my next book (a fully-fledged regency novel) until 2009. I was quite proud of myself; I'd been really scared to start writing it, being highly insecure about my knowledge of the era and my capabilities. But prompted by a friend I did it and I felt really great and optimistic about it until I started submitting it — only to receive rejection after rejection after rejection. 

By that time I'd become used to the prickle in my eyes and in my throat whenever I read another "unfortunately we don't think that your book is right for us" letter. I knew that the prickling would pass and the tears that inevitably came would be brushed away with a resolute gesture of my hand that spelled "I don't care". I would put a smile on my face and hope that the next submission would bring the coveted "yes!". I was impatient. I wanted to be published more than anything. I found a website where they published classic and modern books written by women. I sent them my book and they were happy to publish it. It was a tiny, two-people epub, but I was so happy to be finally accepted that I signed on and the book was soon out. It had a simple cover that depicted sweet rusticity and no editing and barely anyone knew about it. Obviously it didn't bring down the house. I was very nervous on the "release day" and ridiculously optimistic. I don't know what I expected. I was a clueless newbie and I was blundering in the dark. As far as sales and exposure goes it was a notable failure. I tried promoting it myself but nothing I did made much of a difference.

My next book was an experiment. It was a regency m/m novella. I completed it in a record time of two months (but then again, it was rather short) and sent it out. An independent publishing house I'd set my eyes on showed an interest in my submission. They agreed to publish it and we signed a three-year contract. This time the book went through a rigorous editing process. It is my belief that they were quite in despair when they started working on it and realized how much still had to be done. But in the end the book was published with a rather fine cover (from an actual cover artist) and thoroughly edited. I hoped it would do good. In comparison with my first book it did indeed do reasonably well. The publishing house had more outlets for exposure and several reviews appeared on websites they usually send their books to. But the earth didn't move. Gradually the sales became less and less and by the time the contract was up no one thought of prolonging it. Once again I tried doing some promotion on my own but being shy, cripplingly insecure, and not really knowing anyone I didn't fare very well. 

Driven by desperate frenzy to do something else after my failed attempts at getting my books noticed despite my best (or worst) efforts, I went and published my very first book with the same epub I'd published my second. I don't have to tell you that it was another disaster in terms of sales. The last book that I published was another m/m regency novel. It was the book that I disliked from the start but for some unfathomable reason was compelled to write. It attracted attention of a new epub back then and I grabbed the chance to get published, completely discounting another publishing house's interest in the book because they told me to revise and rewrite it before re-submitting it to them. I didn't want to wait. I had the itch that had to be satisfied. I plunged forward. I signed the contract. I changed several editors in the process and it took longer than I expected but finally the book was completed and published. I regret this decision more than any other I've ever made. It wasn't a good book and I despised it and was ashamed of it and did nothing to promote it at all. I just wished to forget it. Still it managed to get several one-star reviews.

That was my wake-up call. It's been more than five years now since I published my last book. I've been reworking my fairy-tale into a fantasy novel ever since. I've already written several drafts, thinking that each one was the last one and submitting it to agents, but going back to revision after next batch of rejections. I want to go the traditional way and I want to do it right this time. I've stopped submitting it for the present because I feel that it still needs a lot of work and that it has the potential to become really good and despite the need and the urgency to get published that sits within me I want it to be the best book I can write before it hits the shelves. I've learned my lesson. I think I've come a long way. I've learned things. I'm making short-term and long-term plans how to go about it now and I'm not going to publish another book unless I'm 100% sure that it's ready to be out there and that it's exactly what I want it to be and that's the way I want to do it.

Have you ever made any publishing mistakes? I have. Tons! bit.ly/1OYmEi2 via @faridamestek (Click to tweet

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

My ninth writing-related blog post (and my 100th post!) in which I look at my failed attempts at networking, connecting with others, making people take notice of me and engaging their help

I always hear how important it is for writers who wish to establish their online presence to forge acquaintances with other bloggers and fellow writers. They say that you have to leave comments and feedback, take part in online discussions, bloghops and memos, use social networking sites to expand your network of 'friends', become part of the community, etc.. They say that it will inevitably help you create your own circle of online friends and critique partners who will support you and will always be there for you, reposting your posts, retweeting your tweets, cheering you on when you're down, whatever. Well, guess what? I've tried all that and got nothing. I've tried time and time again to engage with other fellow writers, readers and bloggers, with whom I share similar opinions in writing, common interests in reading and whose blog posts I enjoy. I left feedback, commented on their posts, took part in different discussions, online reading groups and bloghops — somehow managing to remain largely unnoticed, snubbed, ignored and un-befriended. I always feel left out. I've discovered that people out there just don't care about what I think and they don't have the need (or maybe room) for another online friend. At most we exchange a comment or two but my attempts at prolonging the conversation usually leads to nothing. The point is that I want to connect with other people and geek out over my favourite books, films and TV-shows, but they are not so keen on the idea, because, unlike me, they have others to do that with. 

In any case, I follow many different blogs and try to leave comments whenever I have something relevant to say or when I have the need to squeal over a favourite book or something. But when I repeatedly leave feedback without getting acknowledged even once, I start feeling like a stalker and stop. I guess I just assumed that making friends online would be easier than making them in real life and that once we see that we have something in common, we'll hit it off straight away. Well, what can I say? I'm a foolish, naive idiot. I have always been! Last week as I was desperately trying to engage my so-called friends' help in voting for the story idea that I'd submitted for a competition, it become clearer than ever that I have no resources whatsoever and that I can't even count on people I actually know in real life. I don't know, do I have to be a cute kitty or a cuddly otter to garner views, retweets and reblogs? I suppose being a celebrity would help. It's a mystery to me how someone become an online celebrity. I'm sure I could keep blogging for millennia and still have only a bunch of followers (if that!). Case in point: I've been blogging roughly since 2009 - when I started working on my first big writing project. I think I had around 30 followers when in 2012 I made a mistake on my blog that I couldn't correct and had to start a new blog, losing all of my followers, who chose not to follow me elsewhere. I've been blogging regularly and semi-regularly ever since then and I still have only 5 followers and they never comment on my posts anyway. That's really depressing. It's like I keep trying and all my efforts are for naught.

Another thing that struck me rather forcibly while I was trying to find someone to vote for me (the organisers of the competition actually actively encourage us to involve our «friends» in the voting process — apparently without giving a single thought to the fact that some of us don't have a lot of friends on- or off-line) was that while I was desperately trying to breach the impenetrable walls of English-language book market and get published there, I lost a golden opportunity to connect with other authors in my own area and make my entrance into the Ukrainian-language publishing world before one of the publishing houses I really wanted to get published in closed for submissions until further notice. I never questioned my choice to write in English. While it is not my native language, I feel at home using it. So when I started writing, I started doing it in English. It was a subconscious choice. But now I can plainly see that I should have been developing both lines. But it was only two years ago that I suddenly decided to attend a writing conference in L'viv; it was quite illuminating, educational and interesting as it provided a glimpse at our publishing industry, but being my shy self, I managed to make only two friends there! It was then that I conceived an idea to try and write in my own language and started reworking what had been a short fairy-tale in English into a longer and more expanded version in Ukrainian. It took me over a year to finally finish it — just in time to take part in the competition. 

Speaking of the competition, I wish they would not insist on online voting or at least not take into consideration (they have a jury to pick up the winner after all!) and prolonging it for another week too! It's pure torture. I mean, if that had been the plan from the beginning - the online voting - they should have made sure that each entry had an equal exposure by promoting them all on different, specialized websites. I mean, they can't imagine that we all have a lot of friends who use social networking sites and who will spread the word and help us get as many votes as we can. In any case, I'm mostly over it by now. My aunt managed to engage the help of some of her friends and though I'm still far from the top spot (about a million years away from it actually), I'm not at the very bottom, so that's something. But in view of recent events I've decided that I need to work on expanding my acquaintances not only online but also in real life and with that in mind I'll keep an eye on other writing conferences and literary events in my area and maybe try and be a bit more forward and active, get out of my shell (ha!) and get to know more people. I will also continue looking for more blogs to follow in hopes that some blogger or other will one day become a good friend, perhaps even a critique partner...

My failed attempts at networking and connecting with other bloggers, writers and readers bit.ly/1LS3tGu via @faridamestek (Click to tweet)

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

My eighth writing-related blog post in which I look at my writing strengths (and see if I have any)

I thought that after I made a post about my biggest weaknesses as a writer I should write about some of my strengths. But my current mood is such that I hardly think I have any strengths at all. It seems to me that if I had them, I would have something to show for by now. But all I have is a bunch of books that failed. Utterly. I've been writing my whole life. You'd think I'd've figured out by now how to write something worth publishing. But years go by and I'm still where I was when I started thinking about getting my books published and building my writing career. 

In all fairness, my non-writing life has not changed much since then either. Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm just not the kind of person who wins lottery or gets a book deal of a lifetime or whose dreams are destined to come true. I feel like I'm reaching that level of lowliness where I succumb to apathy and despair. My January euphoria has evaporated by now and with each passing day I write less and less. I know I should stop whining and pull myself together, because there are so much more people whose luck is even worse than mine and whose opportunities are even less. So let's see... my strengths... Hmm... 

I love telling a story, just narrating some bit of history or other. I always know a lot more backstory than I need and sometimes I'm interested in the backstory more than in the actual story. I think it can be said that I have a certain mastery of the language and my prose is smooth and flowing, once it's polished, of course. I love writing dialogues. I always have fun constructing them. I think I'm quite good at it too as I've had lots of practice and I think I manage to make them sound natural and lively most of the time. I love describing people and nature and I think I manage to do a good job with both. 

Of course, I may just be totally delusional, but I doubt that anyone will be bothered to stop by and tell me that, so I'll continue with my delusion, thank you very much.


I feel I should explain myself, because I feel kind of bad that this is such a pathetic and uninspired post. But like I said before: I'm in a very low place right now and this is the reason why. I'm taking part in a literary competition organised by one of our TV channels in collaboration with one of the publishing houses - "Looking for a new childhood hero". The winner will receive 15,000 hrivnas in prize money, the winning story will be illustrated and published by the publishing house in the edition of 15,000 copies, and there is a possibility that it will be turned into a cartoon and a computer game. I submitted a story idea for my fairy-tale about "Stella, the star that returned".

Yesterday, the submission window closed and online voting began. So far I managed to get only 20 votes and I'm currently in the 148 spot, though I keep losing my position whenever another story gets another vote. The organisers encouraged us to involve our friends in the voting. I don't have a lot of friends in real life but I thought that I could try using Facebook and Twitter to spread the word and get some votes from those people I actually know or those I've been in touch with. Judging by the number of votes I managed to get, you can easily imagine how that worked out.

Naturally, I feel bitter and sorry for myself. Social networking failed me again. But worse than that, I've once again saw how very few people I can actually count on.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

REVIEW: Uprooted by Naomi Novik


Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose. 

My thoughts:

I must confess that I have mixed feelings about this book. I've heard a lot of great things about it. Everyone seemed to be enraptured and enamoured by the story and I can understand why. In fact, I don't think I have ever heard anything but praise. I was intrigued by the premises. I loved the cover. I decided to read it too. I don't really have any criticism per se. I think the author has done a marvellous job creating her world, its history, its traditions, its magic, etc, rooted deeply into Slavic folklore. It's been almost a week since I've finished reading the book and I still can't think about woods and forests without recalling the Wood in the novel. The description of corruption within it was visceral and so real I sometimes thought I could feel it leaving the pages of the book and tainting me. Maybe that's why it didn't seat well with me. From the very beginning I couldn't get rid of some strange feeling, as though of something indecent or unclean crawling all around me. I can't explain it and I don't know why the book made me feel that way. Though, I suppose, I could put it down to the author's talent of creating a powerful, vivid, disturbing, magically-enhanced picture.

It was as though I was walking in the flower garden surrounded by the sweetest of aromas, but under all that sweetness I could feel an unmistakable scent of something rotten and decaying. I think that alone speaks volumes about the author's skill in making the corruption of the Wood so real. I'm from Ukraine and it was a bit bizarre for me to read about Polnya and Rosya being at war, because they obviously refer to Poland and Russia and their tumultuous past. I also found the names both familiar and strange to the eye when spelled in English. I don't know how I feel about Baba Jaga, because in my country she is considered a nightmare for young children and as a child I was often sent to bed under the threat of her coming and taking me away, because that's what happened to naughty children who didn't go to bed on time. Another thing that wouldn't leave me from the very beginning and till the very end of the book was the depiction of the Dragon aka Sarkan. Call me crazy but he strongly reminded me of Professor Severus Snape: unpleasant, sarcastic, scathing, unapologetic, skillful, powerful, distant, etc.. I just saw him all through the story.

All in all, I can't say that it was a pleasurable read for me but I can definitely say that the book makes a profound impression on you and is without a doubt excellently written.