“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes,
no matter what stories they tell outside our valley.”
Forget everything you think you know about folklore and enter Novik’s realm of dark fantasy in this stunning debut full of lush and terrifying fiction. Uprooted is easily a unique masterpiece with plots and characters unlike any others in its genre. I started off reading this book as one would begin a thrilling but harrowing task. I’m never one to be put off by the size of a book, however at first glance Uprooted seems like a monstrosity of small fonts and lengthy pages, something that can make any reader feel threatened.
Do not let this fool you, for once I began to invest my time into the chapters, the pace quickened so much so that I devoured two-hundred pages over the course of a few hours (which for me was remarkable)! In a strange way, I felt that the book was almost too good for my brain to keep up with everything…if that even makes sense. I like to thoroughly take in every detail of any story, and Novik is a wordsmith goddesses, so of course I was bit overwhelmed by my own sheer exuberance. There’s enough space between her phrases to leave room to the imagination, a feat that I respect when it comes to how an author writes his/her story. But in my case, I was just so excited to read the book that I wound up thinking about reading the book…instead of actually reading the book…(yikes). Nevertheless, this piece of fiction is exceptionally crafted and brimming with strong protagonists. This is all I want in an epic fantasy, and I have a feeling you will want it too.
“It comes, I suppose,” I said thoughtfully, speaking to the air, “of spending too much time alone indoors, and forgetting that living things don’t always stay where you put them.”
We start off our journey with Agnieszka, a young peasant living in the quant village of Dvernik which borders the deadly, malevolent Wood. Her dearest friend, Kasia, emits strong beauty and bravery―qualities of which the Dragon sees fit enough for a new servant. The Dragon is an immortal wizard who protects the villagers against the dark magic of the Wood, yet each decade he takes the most promising girl to live with and serve him for the next ten years of her life. He des not harm the girls, and each one never returns to their meager lifestyle in the valley once they are put back into the world―instead going off to greater cities pluming wealth and prosperity. Kasia has known since she was a child that she is more than likely to be chosen by the Dragon. Agnieskza has known as well, and the thought of losing her aquatinted-sister is maddening. Until the day of the harvest comes, and the Dragon does not choose Kasia.
The plot was enchanting with all its twists and turns, especially considering the abstract idea of the antagonist―and I only say idea because this antagonist was not a person, rather it was a forest more eerie than the one found in Snow White. The Wood, as it is known amongst the characters, is a giant shadow of land that lurks within reach of the village inhabitance, constantly picking off children and others who wander too close.
It spreads like disease and can corrupt those who’ve never even been to the outer reaches of the valley, simply by plaguing someone and sending them back without seemingly any traces of evil. Novak has created such a compelling image of darkness, and it is all the more ingenious because this wickedness does not reside within a single person. The antagonist is not governed by what most living antagonists are contrived of―no, this antagonist is literally Mother Nature in full fury.
To defeat such a villain, Agnieskza must learn quickly of who she was destined to be, and with the begrudging help of her mentor, the Dragon. The most shocking of all the subplots was undeniably the stories that came from the Wood and it’s origin. You’ll meet characters so wonderfully crafted, and they’ll tear your heart to pieces. This is not your average folktale. It’s so, so much more.
But the best thing by far were the characters and the relationships held between each of them. For starters, Agnieszka is not written as some beautiful damsel with a fate that will make or break the becomings of the universe― she’s simply a peasant girl who cannot go ten minutes without ripping her skirts or getting dirt in her hair. Her bravery, cunningness, compassion, and humorous whit are what makes her character so compelling. I fell in love with her, and that’s not very common for me and the main protagonists because I usually find some flaws that cannot be cast aside to be unnoticed. Raw and so wildly familiar, Agnieszka is all I’ve ever wanted in a strong heroine.
What makes her even better is the relationship she shares with her dearest friend, Kasia. I cannot begin to express how pleased I was that Novik didn’t touch upon two jealous friends who bicker over boys and beauty. I’m so disgusted with the trope of girls unnecessarily loathing one another, and this book was such an overwhelming breath of fresh air that their sisterly friendship actually did bring me to tears on a few occasions. Also, Kasia wasn’t left behind in the grand scheme of the books commencement. I won’t tell you what becomes of her because that would involve spoilers, but it’s pretty freaking awesome. Kasia is a courageously loyal friend, and a sharp sword when needed be.
The Dragon, much like Agnieszka, is not the average brooding male protagonist you might have expected. He’s refined and well-spoken, but also incredibly sarcastic and exasperated with the nonsense he has to put up with. Wizards, especially those who’ve been lingering for more than a century, have grown cold to the ways of endearment. The Dragon cares about the health and safety of his people, and those outside of his borders, but that doesn’t mean he wishes to tether himself to them in fear of being hurt through their inevitable deaths.
What I love most about him is how he treats everyone else around him, even those who we’d consider enemies. He’s not malicious or hot-headed, in fact he’s quite the opposite. The Dragon (and you will find out his true name int he book!) is very wise and very alone. Agnieszka enters his realm of brick towers and barriers and forces them all down in a heartbreakingly, amusing adventure full of bickering, snipping and name calling. I’m a sucker for platonic friendships, but I’m downright obsessed with those friendships that flourish into platonic romances (which then harvest into something even more beautiful as time goes on). So to surmise, Uprooted, although not heavily focusing on romance of any sort, enraptures all I want in a perfectly imperfect OTP (One True Pairing).
This story, although making my heart swell, was nonetheless dark and complicated. I don’t know if I’d truly classify this one as YA because there are moments where violence and explicit content are used as the foremost points of development. Perhaps it’s better as a NA novel? Regardless, I wouldn’t mind the rating at all so long as some of these entities don’t disturb you. I’m not quite certain what thrilled me the most; the romance, the battles, or the Wood. Every aspect of this novel was carefully delivered with an underlying tone of bitter darkness that halfway reminded me of tree rot or moss…not that I’m being nostalgic or anything (I totally am). I’ve studied forestry for a while and the organic diction and prose of this story had me swooning. The setting was delightful, and the writing style was one of the best I’ve ever come across. It kept me engaged from prologue to epilogue.
But for all the emphasis I put on the world-building and characters, one of the best things about this story was truly the aesthetic of wizardry and witches. I didn’t know I’d be reading about witches, specifically ones arranged so whimsically. The spell-language, as the Dragon called it, is lyrical even though my tongue tripped over the strange words more than a few times. The magic is so vividly described that it makes you feel as though you can brew the potions and cast the spells as well. This book presented a look inside the makings of wizards in such a new and darkly romantic angle, and I couldn’t have been more pleased.
Uprooted is brilliant beyond words, an old artwork that had been lost but newly found and restored to life. It was everything I had hoped it would be and MORE. I’m proud to say that Naomi Novik is now one of my favorite authors and I can’t wait to see what else she’ll gift us in the future. I recommend this book to everyone! It deserves all of the stars, the moon, and the planets.
5 of 5 moons. Recommended: everyone.