Author: Naomi Novik
Publisher: Del Rey
“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.
Review: 5 Stars
Uprooted was scary, fun, and even at times romantic.
It reminded me of Patricia McKillips novels in that it had that pastoral fairy tale feel but with more action and characters that felt less remote than hers often do. There was also more danger, both coming from the nefarious wood and a few key characters.
It’s not really a spoiler to say that the Dragon (an ageless wizard) chooses Agnieszka, the main character, and not her friend Kasia to live with him for the next ten years as the next tribute of sorts. We see that he would have preferred Kasia but becomes aware of something in Agnieszka that forces him to select her instead. We and Agnieszka learn what that is as she slowly begins to study magic under him. I appreciated that she remained a snarly-haired wild thing with dirty clothes through to the end. I’m not the first person to complain how common it’s become to have the main heroine view herself as average all the while every male falls in love with her and her beauty. She is an oddball and this suited the intuitive right-brained style of magic that flowed from her all the while mystifying and infuriating her teacher. Those that do fall under her spell do so in response to her abilities and her loyal tenacious nature, much of this is shown in her devotion to her best friend Kasia who remains a large part of the story.
The Dragon (whose name is Sarkan) is wizardry’s answer to Henry Higgins, though he looks like a young man. No matter how his feelings regarding Agnieszka changed over time he remained grouchy and exasperated and usually still called her a lunatic. This made the scenes where either passion or sudden tenderness was revealed that much better. Agnieszka however is no Galatea and remains the opposite of Sarkan in most ways, he practices a very left-brained precise style of magic with powerful results. He admires both beauty and order. There is very little about Agnieszka that suits his sensibilities, but as they work through various crises with the wood, Kasia, and members of the royal family, a mutually beneficial and stimulating dynamic develops through the embracing and joining of opposites. Novik never allows this to overshadow the larger story and outside a few notable scenes where it surfaces (quickly I think both as a surprise to the reader and the characters) it otherwise simmers notably in the background.
I don’t really want to give away much more. There is a lot of plot involving the threat the wood poses to all and has done down through history that becomes the focus and ties various characters and story threads together. Uprooted was well written with an excellent balance between character driven moments and action as well as many clever combinations of the two and is one of my favorite new releases this year.
I was a glaring blot on the perfection. But I didn’t care: I didn’t feel I owed him beauty.
He stared at the spell, turned the book to see the spine as if he didn’t quite believe his own eyes, and then sputtered at me, “You impossible, wretched, nonsensical contradiction, what on earth have you done now?”