I received this ARC through NetGalley from the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
This novel is like a myth, mysterious and dreamy, elusive and multilayered, open to different interpretations. I don’t think simple like or dislike could cover it. Everyone will see in its pages something that belongs exclusively to them, something close to their heart.
What did I see? What is close to my heart? I saw a sixteen-year-old girl longing for freedom – the freedom to choose and the freedom to belong. But those two freedoms are exactly the opposites, and their demands rip her soul apart. If she wants to belong, she has to conform. If she wouldn’t conform, she can’t belong, unless she is strong enough to make her own rules, to create her own world, but that’s the hardest road of all.
The book starts slowly. The entire first part of it is broody and misty like an impressionist’s painting. Marni, the heroine, doesn’t belong anywhere except in a hut with her grandpa. She is a daughter of two worlds. Different. Alone.
Her mother was a princess from the human realm, but Marni’s uncle, the king, rejected her before she was born. When Marni was a baby, the king killed his sister, Marni’s mother, and only her grandfather’s protection keeps Marni alive now.
Her father is from the realm of magic. He is a dragon, commanding an enchanted forest, sending his trees and his fey creatures after his daughter. But Marni doesn’t know what she wants. Should she stay in the human kingdom and avenge her mother by killing her murderous uncle? Or should she go into the magical forest and surrender her human self?
Her journey of self-discovery is painful and fraught with doubts. In the king’s court, she encounters love but she wouldn’t succumb to it. She stays alone and aloof, rejecting love because it makes her soft, happy, forgetful of her bitterness and animosity towards her uncle. She doesn’t wish to forget or forgive. Hatred dominates her being, defines her. Its venom slithers into Marni’s heart and takes control, transforming the girl into a cold, merciless avenger. Almost…
Of course, her uncle hates her too. He hated her first. He had started this endless circuit of loathing. Between him and Marni, the hatred festers, feeds on itself, grows into a huge and ugly monster, bigger than the dragon, bigger than the kingdom. It almost destroys them both. That part of the book reads like the etymology of hatred, a study so intense it poisons the readers too.
When Marni finds herself in the dragon’s world, the emotional intensity drops, and the bitterness dissipates. The narration becomes fluid like magic, but the reader’s concern for Marni’s well-being doesn’t ebb. Would she abandon her humanity for the easy, sweet allure of magic? Would she let go of being a mortal woman? Would she relinquish her rights to choose?
Every character in this book has his own color, his own personality, but Marni is the focus that binds them all. The author follows her on her voyage of self-discovery to the very end, and her exploration puts everyone through an emotional wringer, the readers as well as the characters.
…you don’t stop a story half done. You keep on going, through heartbreak and pain and fear, and times there is a happy ending, and times there isn’t. Don’t matter. You don’t cut a flower half through and then wait and watch as it slowly shrivels to death. And you don’t stop a story before you reach the end.
Does Marni find her happy ending? Does she find a place to belong? I’m not sure. But I know that this book will stay with me long after I finished the last page.