Author: Naomi Novik
Read: October 19th-20th
Publisher: Del Rey
Release Date: May 19th, 2015
Genre: high fantasy
In short: holy bagels, what a book. Gorgeous prose, a hilarious main character, and a beautiful Poland-inspired fantasy setting all make this a win.
Goodreads: “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.
This book absolutely blew me away from the moment I started it. I spent most of one night reading it, and while I technically finished it at 11 pm, I ended up just staring at my ceiling until 2 in the morning (I kid you not) thinking about Uprooted and rereading my favourite parts. It reads like such lovely traditional fantasy, a fairytale brought to life. In fact, it took me back to Howl’s Moving Castle, which is absolutely one of the best and most adorable fantasy books I’ve ever read.
≫ THE PLOT:
But there was something watching. I felt it more and more with every step the deeper I went into the Wood, a weight laid heavily across my shoulders like an iron yoke. I had come inside half-expecting corpses hanging from every bough, wolves leaping at me from the shadows. Soon I was wishing for wolves. There was something worse here.
Agnieszka is a walking mess—she leaves disaster behind her wherever she goes, including but not limited to torn dresses, broken things, and messes of all kinds. So her family has never worried that the Dragon, a wizard who protects their quiet valley from the menacing Wood that surrounds it, will take her away when she turns seventeen. Instead, everyone knows it will be Kasia, who is smart, brave, skilled, and beautiful, and Agnieszka cannot bear the thought of her best friend being snatched away for ten years. But when the Dragon arrives, he chooses Agnieszka instead—because she is a witch, and has power she can barely comprehend. The Dragon reluctantly tutors her in the magical arts, and they must control the dark spread of the Wood before it swallows their kingdom whole.
Right off the bat the fairytale-ness of this book is clear, but I guarantee it’s nothing like Beauty & the Beast. This is such an inventive, original plot. And the Wood is so creepy—possessing people, driving animals insane, and home to all sorts of creatures. Thing is, while this plot was so fun, it wouldn’t have been half as wonderful without the amazing characters and their relationships.
≫ THE SETTING:
There is some power deep in your valley, some strangeness beyond mortal magic that draws men in, plants roots in them—and not only men.
Like I said, the kingdom of Polnya was inspired by Polish fairytales, and I love that the Polish influence is present but not overwhelming. The valley and its villages to the capital, Kralia, are all vividly painted. The Wood is described in spine-chilling detail. And all of them are so easy to get lost in.
≫ THE PROTAGONIST:
“I don’t want more sense!” I said loudly, beating against the silence of the room. “Not if sense means I’ll stop loving anyone. What is there besides people that’s worth holding on to?”
Agnieszka was everything I love in a fantasy heroine: independent, unafraid to stand up for what she believes in, loyal, smart, and hilarious. She doesn’t take anyone’s shit, and everything she does is for her best friend, Kasia. At the same time, though, she’s far from perfect. She’s resentful, she’s far from charming, and she’s just about the least elegant person either. None of those things are ever portrayed like faux-flaws. Agnieszka makes mistakes and she knows it. I loved her unconventional way of learning magic—totally felt like a shout-out to people in our world who don’t find it easy to learn in ways we think of as ‘normal.’ Not only is Agnieszka so fun to read about, she’s definitely the kind of person I’d aspire to be.
≫ THE OTHER CHARACTERS:
All of these characters had such depths to them. The Dragon seems like such an ordinary character, but just wait till you find out about his real feelings. Kasia seems like such a Mary Sue, but just wait till you find out about her hidden resentment. The same can be said for everyone in Kralia. The entire cast added to the hilarious banter, and their driving desires had such enormous influences on the story. It’s almost as if…every character…acted like a real person instead of a chess piece…
≫ OF VILLAINS:
The Wood is terrifyingly insidious. It creeps through the villagers’ defences and brings all manner of horrors with it, as though it has a mind of its own. It’s everywhere. It’s pretty much a high fantasy version of that insane computer ARIIA from Eagle Eye.
≫ THE ROMANCE:
I wanted him, I wanted to drag myself away and run, and most of all I wanted to know which of those things I wanted more.
This is the kind of romance that makes birds sing really obnoxiously in Disney movies. This is the kind of romance that’s literally springtime condensed into human interaction. This is the literal definition of “SQUEE!” I loved watching the development between the Dragon and Agnieszka, the way their walls come down, and best of all, the reason why those walls were up in the first place. You’ll see what I mean. Of course they start out disliking each other, frequently insult each other, etc., etc., and I don’t mean to romanticise any of that. But they grow to support and appreciate each other, and it was so rewarding to read.
≫ THE HUMOUR:
I realised I didn’t adequately convey just how hilarious Agnieszka’s inner voice and this whole book are. The writing wasn’t just beautiful, it was so darn witty.
…he was supposedly an excellent administrator, and would be an excellent king, and no one cared anything about him.
He roared at me furiously for ten minutes after he finally managed to put out the sulky and determined fire, calling me a witless muttonheaded spawn of pig farmers—“My father’s a woodcutter,” I said—“Of axe-swinging lummocks!” he snarled.
“Can’t I—come with you? How long will you be?”
“A week, a month, or never, if I grow distracted, do something particularly clumsy, and get myself torn in half by a chimaera,” he snapped, “which means the answer is no, you may not.”
After a moment, he said, in almost marveling tones, “Are you deranged?”
“…In any case, it would have been idiotic of me to leave you sitting there like a ripe plum until something came along out of the Wood and ate you, and made itself into a truly remarkable horror.”
“Yes,” he said, “and if a dozen angels would only sweep down from above and lay waste to the entire Wood with flaming swords, the situation would be infinitely improved as well.”
He blinked awake at me unguarded for a moment, too startled to be indignant, as if he’d never imagined anyone could barge in on him. He looked so baffled I didn’t want to shout at him anymore.
“How did you,” he said, pushing himself up on an elbow, indignation finally dawning…
≫ THE ENDING:
I won’t spoil the actual ending for anyone, because suspense kept me nearly in tears and I love when books that made me suffer make other people suffer too. Instead I will talk about the climax and resolution, which was so perfect and in-character that I could’ve cried—wait. But really, every character’s fate, despite some bittersweetness, was so apt.
≫ TO SUMMARISE:
READ IT READ IT READ IT. I promise you won’t regret it. If you’re a fan of fantasy, if you’re a fan of YA, if you love romance that’s funny and real and painfully well-written, if you love fairytales, READ IT. And even if you don’t love any of those things, READ IT, because Uprooted might very well change your mind.