Author: Naomi Novik
Publication: May 21st 2015 by Macmillan (first published May 19th 2015)
Source: Publisher via Netgalley (thank you Pan Macmillan and Netgalley!)
Other classifications: Adult, Witchcraft and Wizardry
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, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost 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 no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.
I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.
What’s with me and these witch books? As I mentioned in my review of The Witch Hunter, I’ve been in a streak. Uprooted is my third novel on the sub-genre in the last two months and I seem to keep wanting more. But of the three, how magic works in Novik’s world is probably the most fascinating, in that it’s unexpectedly unique and completely immersive. Of course, medieval stories set in a perfunctorily veiled European country is not uncommon. But the author shifts the landscape with Polnya, a seemingly fantastical version of Poland, away from the go-to England. And the way she built the Wood is just enthralling and palpable; you can almost feel it breathing.
“It didn’t make much sense to me. We were all afraid of the Wood. But our valley was home. How could you leave your home?”
Agnieszka’s people live in constant fear of the Wood and the creatures that populate it, lurking in the shadows of trees, taking stray men unawares or children playing in the fields. But even so, for these people, home is home and it’s protected by the Dragon, a powerful wizard living in a tower at the crest of the valley. He holds the Wood at bay for the whole kingdom of Polnya and he only asks that one girl be taken under his service for ten years. What the girl does or why the Dragon demands this, no one can be certain. All that’s clear is when the girl returns, she wants to leave the valley for good. While the story has a slow start and loses its momentum halfway through, there is one particular white knuckles battle sequence that more than compensates for it. This is bolstered by strong characterization, a quiet love story and a well written friendship, laying down the foundations of an epic read. Novik, however, like her characters, has one or two flaws. Uprooted has rough-around-the-edges prose and it reads as a trilogy packed into a stand-alone.
“”I don’t want more sense!” I said loudly, beating against the silence of the room. “Not if sense means I’ll stop loving anyone. What is there besides people that’s worth holding on to?””
In a variety of levels, Uprooted is reminiscent of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo and Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest, but chiefly of the former. The way witches are treated in the capital reminded me of the grishas in Ravka, the I-don’t-fit-in-a-box protagonist with abilities unlike her peers, but mostly the striking resemblance between the Dragon and the Darkling—and not only with the first letters of their names. It’s in the fog of mystery around them, the magnitude of power and self-command, the reluctance, their effect on people. I’m not saying these are disappointments; these are mere observations. Plus, the Dragon is way snarkier and I highly enjoyed that about him, especially the chemistry he and Agnieszka clearly have. Even when they weren’t rooting for each other*, the two make a good duo. Their banters are just pure fun.
“The pain got worse instead of better. I pulled away from them and tried to press myself into the wall, the cool hard stone, as if I could make myself a part of it and be unfeeling.”
At the heart of the book is Agnieszka and Kasia’s friendship. It is one of the main driving forces of the story and I really admire how Novik delivers. And, while the pacing is quite less than outstanding and a three-part series would’ve left more room for deeper character exploration, Uprooted still is worth checking out, more so if magic and witches/wizards are your thing.
Lastly, many have called this YA, and it must be said that when I requested this title, for reasons hazy, I thought it was too. Except it isn’t. The protagonist is seventeen but the tone and style of the narrative is undoubtedly adult.
Naomi Novik is an avid reader of fantasy literature since age six, when she first made her way through The Lord of the Rings. She is also a history buff with a particular interest in the Napoleonic era and a fondness for the work of Patrick O’Brian and Jane Austen. She studied English literature at Brown University, and did graduate work in computer science at Columbia University before leaving to participate in the design and development of the computer game Neverwinter Nights: Shadow of Undrentide. Over the course of a brief winter sojourn spent working on the game in Edmonton, Canada (accompanied by a truly alarming coat that now lives brooding in the depths of her closet), she realized she preferred writing to programming, and on returning to New York, decided to try her hand at novels.
Naomi lives in New York City with her husband and six computers.
*See what I did there?
Have you read this one yet? If you’re deciding whether or not to pick it up, was I helpful? Also, let’s talk magic and witches, throw them books (or films) my way!