WHY DIDN'T YOU WARN ME?
Holy cow, the uglycrying. It was... well, ugly.
And it was compounded by the fact that Josh was reading in the same room, but he'd fallen asleep and I didn't want to wake him up (partly to be nice, but mostly because I knew he'd mock me for sobbing over a dragon book (which is not a first)) but it got so bad that I held my breath in an attempt to still the sobs, but finally gasped for air and then he woke up and was so startled by my hideous, wet, tomato face that he promptly fell off the couch.
So, yes, all of the 2012 chatter is very definitely to be believed: it's a fantastic book.
The narrator—the Royal Storyteller, Cassian—has a voice that is so timeless, so believable, that it reads like an old-fashioned fairy tale, but also like a true, honest-to-goodness history. (Yes, even with the fantasy elements. It feels THAT real.) While he's not the star of the show, he's a key player in the events he's describing, and he's had the time and the opportunity to reflect on the role he played and the mistakes he made, and his guilt and grief and love for the others—as well as for the world that was lost—comes through on every page.
It's the story of the end of a world; of a princess who isn't beautiful; of a stableboy who becomes a hero; of an imprisoned, forgotten god; of the last existing dragon. It's about fear and bravery and hope and friendship; about expectations and assumptions and secrets; about how getting your heart's desire isn't always all it's cracked up to be; about love and sacrifice and what it means to be a good leader.
Oh dear, I'm all weepy again. I can't decide if I want to hug Kelly Barnhill or kick her in the shin.
ETA: It just occurred to me that I was so focused on the crying that I didn't mention one little thing, which is KEY. Despite the fact that this book gutted me, despite the fact that the first half of the book is about almost all of the characters—including the heroine—becoming ever more nasty and mean and spiteful due to the influence and manipulation of a vindictive, greedy, horribly persuasive enemy, there is a LOT of humor and warmth and affection here, too. For reals. Don't let all of the talk of my sads scare you off.
Related: The Mark of the Bandit, Part One.
Related: The Mark of the Bandit, Part Two.
Related: The Mark of the Bandit, Part Three.