Agnieszka loves her village, set deep in a peaceful valley. But the nearby enchanted forest casts a shadow over her home. Many have been lost to the Wood and none return unchanged. The villagers depend on an ageless wizard, the Dragon, to protect them from the forest’s dark magic. However, his help comes at a terrible price. A young village woman must serve him for ten years, leaving all she values behind.
Agnieszka fears her dearest friend Kasia will be picked at the next choosing, for she’s everything Agnieszka is not – beautiful, graceful and brave. Yet when the Dragon comes, it’s not Kasia he takes.
Year of Publication: 2015
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Page Count: 438
Spoiler-Free Review: Yes
Uprooted was the most magical book that I have read in a long time.
Easily the best part about this novel was the clear influences that were drawn from classic fairy tales. There’s a quote on the back of my copy by Gregory Maguire which sums this up entirely: “Like a lost tale of Grimm newly come to light…bewitching.” Honestly, I haven’t read another book which captures the sheer darkness, but also the whimsicality, of those tales in such a powerful way. Novik creates the most incredibly sinister atmosphere throughout the book, and this is always shown to be a precursor to something terrible which will occur involving the Wood.
“The river had dwindled around us, and the trees had grown so monstrous and high that their branches entwined overhead into a canopy so thick that no sunlight came through, only a filtered dim glow. The underbrush had died away, starved of the sun. Thin-bladed ferns and red-capped mushrooms clustered on the banks with drowned grey reeds and snarled nests of pale exposed roots in black mud, drinking up the river” – 398/9
There was such a feeling of nostalgia to this book, which meant that reading it felt like returning to an old friend despite it being my first time reading. It was traditional, but it also took its own modern spin with the powerful friendships and relationships that motivated much of the plot. Agnieszka was a compelling and immensely likeable protagonist, with Novik drawing out her flaws and emphasising how these impacted the wholly believable character she created. It was nice to see a change from the trope of the heroine of a tale coming from a humble background and suddenly becoming the saviour; it felt like much more of a slow burn with Novik. This only added to my love for the story, and by the end I felt as though Agnieszka had grown but still retained much of her character from the beginning.
Her relationship with the Dragon was also enjoyable to read, and not at all what you would expect from reading the synopsis. I expected an old, white-bearded guy in robes but that…that is not what you get. He does conform somewhat to the classic broody-but-I-don’t-know-why stereotype, but I loved reading about him and his wicked library of intriguing magical texts. I can only say that I wish we had been given more of the Dragon’s backstory, because his hard demeanour must have been the result of some things that I feel we were never really told about.
I loved the fact that this was a standalone fantasy. They always seem rare to come across, so when I realised that this one was (despite other books being released in this world, I think?) I was desperate for it to be something special. This format meant that the events were wrapped up in such a satisfying conclusion, and I got the same feeling as though I had just read a traditional fairy tale and had learned something by the end of it. The events in this novel had me literally on the edge of my seat for almost its entirety. The section in the middle did get a bit slow after a while – I far preferred the sections involving the Wood and the Tower, mostly because they were the parts most associated with the humble beginnings of the character, rather than the court intrigue that I usually love but have become slightly burnt out with given how much of a presence it typically has in fantasy novels. That, however, was the only part that didn’t grip me. Everything else that happened was so richly written and described, and I was fully taken aback by the complexity of the reveals that come towards the end of the book, particularly relating to the villain of the tale.
The villain is difficult to describe without giving spoilers for the book, but I felt as though Novik did an amazing job of creating a villain that didn’t just have the standard give me world domination for the sake of it motive. The thought ran so much deeper, and it helped to explain so many of the things which occur throughout. Again, the villain’s domain was just so atmospheric: the Wood, without a doubt, became a character all of its own.
If you’re looking for a dark and bewitching novel perfectly suited to this time of year, Uprooted should definitely be your choice. It felt every bit the fairy tale, with characters that you believe in and settings which are filled to the brim with magic.
My rating: 4.5 stars
Have you read Uprooted or any other works by Naomi Novik? I would absolutely love to hear what you thought and discuss!
Have a beautiful day,