Published: May 19, 2015
“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”
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.
Uprooted is a masterfully-crafted fantasy novel that will have readers putting roots of their own down into Naomi Novik’s beautifully-imagined world.
The novel follows sixteen-year-old Agnieszka after she is chosen to be the local wizard’s newest female companion. Distraught, terrified, and naturally a bit clumsy, Agnieszka can be hard to like at first as she bumbles around her new home, contriving to turn everything into a mess only half-intentionally. However, as she grows into her role and acquires confidence, she quickly becomes someone to admire, all while retaining just enough of her awkwardness to ground her personality. She develops but she never transforms into someone unrecognizable. This complexity and attention to detail in building character is one of Novik’s strengths and is apparent in even characters who make only minor appearances.
Novik puts the same attention into her world-building. Uprooted has hints of folktales, incorporating such figures as Baba Jaga, but the setting still seems entirely Novik’s own. She deftly paints pictures of diverse regions of her invented country, drawing readers into court intrigue at the castle as deftly as she draws them into the dangers of the Wood. Though different characters profess love for different parts of Polyna, Novik makes it hard for readers not to love it all.
The system of magic, the national history, and the social customs are vividly imagined, as well. Novik hints at a deep, dark past even as protagonist Agnieszka and her mentor fight for a brighter future. The stakes of this novel are alarmingly high, as the characters struggle to save themselves from the corruption of the Wood and fates worse than death. The action builds to a sharp crescendo as Novik throws greater and greater obstacles into her characters’ path, making the novel hard to put down.
Tied through all of this is a subtle romance. Some readers may wish for more, but I found it just about right. As readers, don’t we always wonder why characters don’t focus on their whole “end of the world” issues instead of pursuing ridiculous love affairs in the face of imminent dangers? Novik’s characters are smart, and also complicated, and I like that there was enough of a romance for interest but enough left out that I can imagine how the rest of the story might go.
With action, adventure, magic, and romance, Uprooted invites readers into a wildly compelling fantasy world and will have readers clamoring for more from Novik.