Published: May 19, 2015
Every ten years the lord of the valley, a wizard known as the Dragon, demands a girl to live with him in his tower, in exchange for keeping the people protected from the corruption of the Wood. Agnieszka has known since birth that her best friend Kasia will be chosen. Kasia, after all, is beautiful, brave, and good at everything. But then the Dragon comes and he takes Agnieska instead. Suddenly she finds herself in a new life, alone and surrounded by magic. Will she ever find her way back home?
Uprooted bases its story in folklore but fleshes out its inspiration to create a vivid fantasy world that drew me in from the start. The classic story of a girl kidnapped by a dragon feels fresh and new as told through the eyes of Agnieszka, a girl who longs to be brave but fears she is nothing but a klutz. But Agnieszka’s story is only one thread of a much larger one, and despite her misgivings, her world expands each day. We are fortunate that Novik has invited us along for the journey.
I love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, so reading a fantasy inspired by Baba Yaya and incorporating elements of much-loved stories was a real treat. Uprooted begins as many such stories do–a young girl grows up feeling ordinary while watching her best friend grow in grace and beauty. She fears that all too soon this friend will be taken from her. But then comes the twist. The dragon who will snatch a maiden from their village is no beast, but a man–or at least a wizard. And he will, of course, take the ugly duckling to his lair. And then the fun begins.
Agnieszka, ill-prepared to serve a wizard, bumbles her way ill-naturedly through the task, attempting to preserve her sense of self as she encounters a strange new world of politics and magic. She also has to learn to deal with the temper and vagarities of the wizard. Perhaps none of this is new, strictly speaking. But Novik makes it feel so. I turned each page in delight, eager to find what new wonders were in store.
I loved the world-building, the politics, the unexpected twists. I loved reading about Agnieszka’s everyday life, village, her friend Kasia. I loved that the villain is a forest, subtle, deep, seemingly impossible to defeat. I loved being immersed in this world. I read the book in two days.
And yet I did have some criticisms. Sometimes the story jumps unexpectedly, as if Novik forgot to write a transition. Many times a character thinks something, and then another character responds. Are they mind readers? We may never know. At first I thought the Dragon might be, as he is a wizard, but other characters also seem to possess this unnerving power.
And the romance. [Spoilers ahead.] I just didn’t buy it. Agnieszka is seventeen and she is paired with a man who is, I think 150. That alone is troublesome, but Novik never really writes the romance. Agnieszka finds herself attracted to the man who makes her life miserable, is snappish, forces her to wear clothes she doesn’t like. That attraction seems not to be love but lust. Readers never see the two falling for each other. They know that Agnieszka feels an energy between her and the Dragon when they cast spells together. Then suddenly they’re tearing at each other’s clothes. In this world, it seems, sleeping together is the culmination of all. There’s very little getting to know one another, no indication that the two care for each other, no romance. Just lust. And once that lust is fulfilled the romance drops by the wayside. But how can I cheer on a romance with no foundation?
Aside from these matters, however, I truly enjoyed Uprooted. I enjoyed getting to know the characters, and I felt myself transported to another world and wanting to stay there. That is part of the test of a true fantasy.