Book Review: Uprooted
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood's powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost 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 no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.
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.
Naomi Novik is best know for her Temeraire series, an alternate history story featuring dragons. I have seen a lot of reviewers giving this series a lot of praise. When Tor send me Naomi Novik's latest, Uprooted I very happy. Uprooted doesn't take place in the Temeraire series though, it's a standalone fairy tale story. To be honest though, when I read the synopsis of Uprooted and check with the page count, I was wondering how such a story could be spread over that many pages... But then after a few chapters in I found that the synopsis only shows the very tip of the iceberg. Uprooted is a beautiful imagining of what a classic modern day fairy tale should be. I bet this will go down in history.
Uprooted follows Agnieszka, a young girl who enjoys a quite life in the woods with her friend and family, all is well, until one day the Dragon shows up. Every few years the Dragon, a powerful wizard comes to the village to select a young women to take with him. This does come with a reason as the Dragon is the only person who is able to keep the forest under submission. The Dragon always chooses the most beautiful girl in the village, but when the day comes the Dragon all of a sudden favors Agnieszka instead of her friend Kasia, who everyone thought would be taken away. Didn't I say the synopsis is only the beginning? Now all of a sudden Agnieszka's life is thrown upside down, the truth of Agnieszka being a witch also dawn on everyone. She has just lost everything and gained nothing, only that she has to play servant to the Dragon. Or that is what she thinks she has. Soon it becomes evident that Agnieszka holds a lot of power and that the Dragon has something store for her. He wants her to learn magic. There is quite a run op to these events along the way you get to see Agnieszka's true character. There is an explanation given early on on why the Dragon does what he does, but only later when sometime and events have passed comes a case out of necessity. The surrounding kingdoms have their own Wizards who help them get an mighty position, but somehow you have to make sure that you keep the upper hand, the same counts for the encroaching Wood that always tries to win new ground. Here the Dragon and Agnieszka have to resort to each other to make the best out of it and hopefully come out on top.
When I has read only the first few sentences of the book I was readily spellbound to Uprooted. The story just have a great sense surrounding it, the writing style is just beautiful and elegant and once you start with it there is just no point of return, you want to finish this book as soon as possible. Added to this come very nice influences of fairy tales take for example the inspiration of Beauty and the Beast with Agnieszka and the Dragon. It creates a very spellbinding and alluring sense that forces you to dream away in this beautiful world.
Of course there are a lot of combinations that make the world of Uprooted a beauty to read, but one that stands out head above shoulders are the characters of the book namely Agniezska, Kasia and Dragon, whose true name is Sarkan (Dragon sounds cooler though). Agniezska was for me the most remarkable one, there is something about her from the start that captured me. She was a simple girl, just making by nothing special, not the best looking one, not special in anyway. But she does get chosen by Dragon to be his new servant (read trainee). In the beginning Agniezska makes a big fuss in the start but slowly grows into something more. This is owed to the influence of Dragon, when I first read his description he does come over as a very gruff and strict man and in the beginning he does seem to have this attitude but he just as Agniezska is going through a big transition. What I liked most about the Dragon is the mysterious air that Naomi Novik managed to create about him. He is perceived as a very bad gy, but once you learn a bit more about him, it is acutally reversed, he does things out of necessity and if it wasn't for him well, nobody would be able to live in the forest. In their relation there is a spark of romance that does accelerate things. It is not a fully romantic story but there are some subtle hints here and there. As for Kasia, she was not chosen to go to the Dragon, but her whole mind was set on this just was that of Agniezska and as the story develops there is a nice coming of age and growing up for both girls, different and there are still some encounters between the two.
With Uprooted Naomi Novik really caught me by surprise. The cover shows some stunning art work and in combination with the synopsis does already promise a lot but once I actually got down to reading, wow, such an beautifully crafted story. There are a lot of details but none feels like to much information at one point. Due to the gradual learning of Agniezska everything feel natural and as it should be. A truly magical story.