Author: Naomi Novik
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
“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.
Uprooted was a recommendation from a writer friend and, as a result, jumped to the top of my TBR pile far quicker than perhaps it should have – I find it so hard to resist books when they’ve come with strong recommendations from people whose opinions I respect. I don’t think that I loved this as much as my friend but I certainly enjoyed most of it.
First the positives; I enjoyed the world building, magic and monsters which was all solid fantasy fare. I thought the Wood was particularly evocative and Novik has some wonderfully written descriptions throughout which really brought the world to life. Fantasy rooted in folklore is always a blend I enjoy and I thought that this was done particularly well. There is a good amount of darkness throughout this book which helps enhance the suspense and jeopardy and I found it was wanting to unlock the mystery of the pervading corruption in Polyna that kept me turning the pages.
Uprooted has a strong feeling of the traditional fairytale about it and so I was happy to forgive certain things being a bit obvious or cliche as a result. However, there were a few things that rankled me.
Firstly, I found it to be quite long, or at least it felt long. There were a good few times I had to urge myself to plough on despite feeling like it was dragging and that it had lost it’s way. I also found the characters a little soporific and predictable in places and there was a considerable lack of emotional development and I found this made getting into the book a little tricky. For instance, our main protagonist is a classic of weak young adult fiction – a plain jane who doesn’t know how special she is. This Special Snowflake is partnered with the Dragon, a rude and grouchy character from the outset who does not display redeeming qualities often enough to be seen as an anti-hero or be forgiven this assholery. He was an enigma of a character and a mystery I wanted to solve at first, but it soon materialised that there was no basis for much of his behaviour. The romance between these two did very little for me. Strangely it simultaneously seemed to come from nowhere and yet I could see it coming a mile off. Essentially, he abuses her a lot and then they fall in love anyway (yawn!)
I feel like I’ve written a lot of negatives here, so much so that I worry my rating is wrong. But no, I did enjoy this book. The Wood is perhaps the strongest part of the novel and it was this and the deceptive sense of darkness throughout that seemed to keep the pace going. This has the feel of a classical fairytale with a beautiful set up, enjoyable first half with some great descriptions and world building throughout, it’s just a shame the same cannot be said for the worlds inhabitants.