Uprooted – Naomi Novik
Release date: May 19th, 2015
Publisher: Del Rey
Age Group: (Young) Adult
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
“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.
When a book is this hyped I always go in with extremely high expectations. Usually there’s a 50% chance it lives up to those expectations, but it’s just as likely I won’t enjoy it as much as the hype made me believe I would. Uprooted was a difficult one on that scale. It is a very good book, it has strong characters, a fascinating main story and it is beautifully written. However, in my opinion it didn’t live up to all that I had expected.
Uprooted builds further on the revival of fairy tales and legends in the Fantasy genre and it does this amazingly. The premise might sound a bit cliché: Agnieszka lives in a quiet valley, surrounded by nature, enjoying life with her best friend Kasia. Not everything is all sunshine though, every ten years the Dragon comes by and takes one of the girls from the valley with him to his tower. The Dragon is a powerful wizard and the girls he takes are his price for protecting the valley against the Wood. It’s not just any kind of wood, this one is properly evil. People who come too close are never seen again, or come back corrupted. There seems to be an evil force working through the Wood, but no one can stop it. Only the Dragon is powerful enough to slow its progress, because the Wood is slowly expanding. Taking girls might sound a bit iffy and at first it’s not really clear what he exactly does with these girls. The next choosing is getting closer and Agnieszka fears he will choose her best friend, Kasia, who is smart and beautiful.
It turns out however that Agnieszka is wrong and she’s about to embark on the most dangerous and brave journey she could have imagined. Agnieszka is a character most people will fall in love with. She’s not a typical beauty, she’s smart and incredibly loyal, but also very stubborn. She is not your typical fairytale princess. This makes her an immensely interesting character to read about. Kasia would be more like the Disney princesses we know, but her role in this story is anything but ordinary as well. The Dragon is perceived as some kind of villain in the beginning of the book, but we quickly learn that there is more to him than you would expect. The actual bad guys might come from a totally different corner of the kingdom. All together they form a rather unique cast of characters that is a big part of the book’s success.
The Wood is one of the most interesting villains I’ve ever read about. Eerie and terrifying, it gave me the chills just to imagine it. It seems such an ungraspable force, how can you battle a whole forest? I absolutely loved learning more about the Wood and where it got its power and what the underlying reason is for its reign of terror.
The storyline is packed full with action and emotion. Agnieszka has to face a lot of her fears and test all her limits to fight through everything that’s thrown at her. There’s magic, there’s politics, there’s attraction and fierce friendship. It has all the ingredients to make this a unique and wonderful fairy tale. Another element that can’t be missing from a story like this is romance. Again, Novik succeeds in giving this a whole new twist and making it complicated, hot and steamy instead of mellow and cliché.
So why didn’t it live up to its expectation for me? I must emphasise that this really is a good book, I enjoyed reading it and I would recommend it to anyone who wants a fresh take on legends and fairy tales, but still likes a bit of the traditional in there. But it didn’t give me the feeling of wonder and satisfaction I expect from 5-star books. I think back at other books I’ve read that blew me away and it’s just not up to those standards for me. Was it one of the best book I’ve ever read? No. One of the best this year? Yes, it’s definitely in my top 3 this year.