I have been curious about Naomi Novik’s standalone fantasy, Uprooted, ever since I first heard about it. I read the first few Temeraire books and thought they were well-written. I just didn’t feel like continuing with the rest of the series. Closer to Uprooted’s release date, I saw glowing reviews pop up in the blogosphere and that just made me want to read the book even more. I picked it up when I was in the mood for a good fantasy novel – Uprooted delivered and even went beyond my expectations. It’s one of my favorite reads this year.
Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
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.
I love how Uprooted’s first line just drew me in. Right away, I wanted to know more about Agnieszka and her village’s arrangement with the Dragon (who is a wizard and not a mythical beast). I really liked Agnieszka’s character. She had a lot of freedom because she was a Dragon girl and was able to run wild as a young girl. She used to think that one of her greatest skills was that she could always be counted on to mess up her appearance, getting her clothes torn and having mud stick to her skirts. But I think what’s great about her is that she cares deeply about people, especially her family and her best friend Kasia. I knew this was a significant trait that would shape her actions for the rest of the novel. At the start of the book, she has no idea why the Dragon chooses her and was as surprised as anyone else to discover that she is actually capable of doing magic. It was interesting to see her grow and develop her skills as a witch, more so because she has a different way of doing magic. I found her interactions with the Dragon entertaining! Some of the scenes were surprisingly funny for me. The Dragon was so ill-tempered, arrogant and a little vain. He was very reluctant to be a teacher to Agnieszka, he only did it because he felt it was his duty to train anyone who has magical abilities. He was snooty and kept looking down at Agnieszka when she couldn’t manage the simplest forms of magic. He thought she was a hopeless case. He strongly reminded me of Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle, which is not a bad thing because I loved that book. I just wish there was more about the Dragon, I wanted to know more about his backstory and I also wanted him to have more scenes in the latter half of the book. I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Kasia. I thought she would have a small role to play in the story but she has an inner strength that’s very different from Agnieszka’s. I loved how solid their friendship was because I always enjoy reading about strong friendships in fiction.
I loved the fairytale feel of the writing. It reminded me of some of my favorite authors like Robin McKinley, Juliet Marillier and Diana Wynne Jones (because of the Howl-like character). I thought the first half of the book had great pacing. I was very absorbed and wanted to ignore everything else so I can keep reading. The pace slowed down a bit after reaching the halfway mark, but it picked up again for the last few chapters. I enjoyed reading about the world that Naomi Novik created, from the mysterious and horrifying Wood to how magic works in different ways. Agnieszka’s magic is more instinctive and closely tied to nature and her environment. While the kind of magic that the Dragon wields is a more traditional (in their world), more scientific, with specific steps that need to be followed in order for a spell to be executed well. I also liked the experimental feel of the two kinds of magic being combined, I thought that was described beautifully. It felt like the combined magic worked specifically because it was Agnieszka and the Dragon doing them. Even though I wanted to read more about this world, I’m very satisfied that Uprooted is a standalone novel. Nowadays when so many series books are being released, it’s refreshing to read a book that is complete on its own. Beautifully written, Uprooted has everything that I love in a good fantasy novel: solid worldbuilding, political intrigue, strong heroine, friendships and family ties, and a romance that has a bit of a love-hate flavor. Highly recommended for fantasy fans. I felt like I was reading an old favorite when I picked this up. I’m pretty sure it’s a book that I will be rereading in the future. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Naomi Novik will write a companion novel set in this world with cameos from Agnieszka and the Dragon! I’ve also heard the news that the rights for an Uprooted movie adaptation have been bought and I’m really hoping they’d do a good job with that.