Naomi Novik-Uprooted

Synopsis: 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.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose. (Adapted from Goodreads)

Themes Explored: fantasy, young adult, YA Fiction, award-winning fiction, young adult fantasy, magic, fiction, Eastern European fantasy, mythology, dragons, myth, legend, growing up, horticultural gone wrong, kidnapping, politics, petulance, religion, spirituality, enchantments


Review: Have you ever looked at a tree and felt like it wanted to eat you? Turns out, they do.

How do trees get so tall and strong? Lots of human protein. Nothing grows a tree quite like the beating heart of an unwilling sacrifice. Or so goes the premise of Uprooted.

Agnieszka lives in the tiny village of Dvernik in the kingdom of Polnya. Dvernik borders a forest that looms over the populace. Every ten years the local wizard, “the Dragon”, collects one teenage girl as payment for protecting the valley from the forest, “the Wood”. Despite being born in a tribute year, Agnieszka knows she will not be chosen as the Dragon only takes the prettiest and brightest girls. Since Agnieszka is clumsy and homely, the Dragon should have no interest in her. Her friend Kasia, the local beauty, has been groomed to be taken by the Dragon from childhood.

However at the choosing ceremony the Dragon picks Agnieszka and abruptly transports her to the white tower where he lives.

Since all the chosen girls leave town at the conclusion of their ten years with the Dragon, Agnieszka does not know what to expect in this strange new world. However, nothing can quite prepare her for the maze of magic and intrigue that surrounds the Dragon’s life.

Uprooted adds a unique twist to the beauty and the beast and the dragon and the virgin fairy tale motifs. Instead of eating virgins and terrorizing small hamlets, the Dragon takes one woman every decade as payment for protection services and does nothing with her. While the Dragon fights the Wood, the chosen girls lives in luxury in the tower.

Every year the Wood comes closer to eating the village and a dark energy permeates everywhere. The Queen disappeared into the Wood about twenty years beforehand and the Crown Prince is determined to rescue her.

This leads to the main conflict of the book. Since only the Dragon can conquer the Wood, he is forced by the Prince to mount a rescue mission with a dubious success rate. All the while poor Agnieszka finds out that she possess some magical abilities and finds the Dragon to be a distracted teacher at best and a tyrant at worst.

The heart of the narrative is the relationship between the Dragon and Agnieszka. They begin as slightly antagonistic teacher and pupil. By the end they are grudging allies and friends. Actually, I was a little surprised that the relationship did not delve into a sexual manner almost immediately, since most of these types of books normally take that route. I think the narrative works better keeping the relationship platonic for a majority of the time since the two characters are not equals in anyway.

Novik excels at the world building. By the end of the book you will hate trees. A forest never felt so menacing. As Novik is Polish, a lot of the references come from Polish culture and Eastern European folklore. For instance, most of the characters have Polish names, the protagonist’s name refers to the story Agnieszka Skrawek Nieba (Agnieszka Piece of Sky) by Natalia Gałczynska. Baba Jaga is a common monster/boogeyman in Slavic mythology. The rival nation of Polnya, Rosya, is pronounced the same way as the Polish word for Russia, Rosja. I did not intentionally set out to read a slew of Eastern European fantasy fiction, I just stumbled into them.

Overall, Uprooted is an enjoyable, if slightly odd, fantasy novel with a fast moving narrative and a terrifying premise. Nature, on the whole, is a neutral source, neither good nor bad. Whatever/whomever happens to inhabit the space can mold nature into a source for evil or good. If you are looking for something quick and unique to read, I recommend this book.

Uprooted, 2015, Del Rey, ISBN: 9780804179034


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