Uprooted by Naomi Novik

9/3/15

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

“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.

Every so often, we, as readers, stumble upon books that remind us why we fell in love with reading to begin with. For me, Uprooted was that book, so perfectly encompassing everything I love in a story that I really don’t know how I’m going to put my thoughts and feelings into words.

If forced to summarize its brilliance, I would say it’s a perfect blend of Beauty and the Beast meets Pride and Prejudice, with a splash of Frozen thrown in. But while some would say this is YA, it most definitely isn’t. Instead, it is the perfect example of an adult fantasy featuring a YA-aged protagonist.

Agnieszka is only seventeen, but everything about the book is written with an adult audience in mind. The narrative style is as if we’re actually being told the story, creating a distance between the reader and the action that often leans more toward summary than real-time — a stylistic choice rarely seen in young adult literature. And while it does take a little getting used to, I will say that it’s handled masterfully, and the end result is reminiscent of sitting around a fire, listening to someone recite a fairy tale. In other words, it’s perfect for creating that dark fantasy, fairy tale feel promised by the cover art.

The world-building is intricate, creating a system of magic that feels entirely real in a world that could very well exist. It’s clearly fictional, of course, but everything from the village life, to the political power-plays, to the creepy Wood itself is painted with a 3-dimensional reality that sucked me in and refused to let go.

I’ve seen a lot of reviews cite the character development as lacking, but I would disagree. It’s subtle, very subtle, and the relationship between the Dragon and Agnieszka reminded me of the Gothic romances — slightly contentious and simmering, as opposed to the instant attraction, flash-in-the-pan romance preferred by modern literature. The clash between their personalities felt honest to me, as did the bond that developed and eventually grew into something real. Each character forces the other to change slightly, to grow, and the end result is built on mutual, if somewhat begrudging at first, respect.

But while the relationship between the Dragon and Agnieszka was one of my favorite parts, I would be remiss if I didn’t note the equally strong, if not even more prevalent, relationship between Agnieszka and her best friend, Kasia. Similar to Frozen, the book features a beautiful example of female kinship, and while Kasia sometimes bothered me, I couldn’t help but admire the strength of the bond between the two characters. Most of the plot hinges on this particular character dynamic, and I felt that Novik pulled it off well.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the book, though, is the atmosphere. The Wood is absolutely terrifying, reminding me of everything I’ve ever feared about living in a forest after dark, and Novik illustrates its power with a cinematic brilliance I can’t wait to see on the silver screen. (Seriously, someone out there PLEASE make this a movie. PLEASE!) But even more important than the entirely creepy, utterly horrifying element the Wood brings to the story is what it represents. Much like the fairy tales the book was modeled after, the entire story is an allegory on the insidious nature of evil, of all that’s dark and black and corrupt in human nature. And it’s an amazing, powerfully moving statement.

I enjoyed every second of reading Uprooted, to the point that I have now purchased every other book Novik has written. While her other series may not live up to the impact this stand-alone title had on me, I am definitely now a loyal fan. Uprooted will forever be one of my all-time favorite reads ever, and I can only hope that my own writing will someday embody the dark fantasy genre even a tiny smidge as well as this book does. Highly recommended to fans of dark fantasy, Gothic-infused fantasy, or fairy tales.

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