Elise Reads! Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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.

My Review:

So, when I’m working on my own novels I have this bad habit of not reading nearly enough. I get so engrossed in the worlds my novels take place in that I make it a point not to pick up new novels, especially fantasy ones. This is my way of saying, I didn’t “want” to read Uprooted. I was wandering around a small local bookstore waiting on a friend and the cover caught my eye (how can it not?) and I picked it up. Opening the hardcover I read this on the inside:

“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.”

I was in love. I said, “No, I can’t pick up another book right now. I don’t have the money for a hardcover, especially.” I didn’t buy it.

But I did obsess over it. That line captivated me and I think it describes the book perfectly. The bit of sass Agnieszka has about her. The mysteriousness of “the Dragon” and the wood. A spark of magic.

I bought the book 10 days later and then I killed it in the span of 3 days. Since then in the past like month or so I’ve re-read it 3 times, various scenes over 10 times. I’m likely going to be buying the hardcover soon as well.

The voice that Novik creates for Agnieszka is effortless and perfect. It’s easy for the reader to follow, to get into her head, but it is also clearly her own character. She’s a blend of innocent, unsure, stubborn, determined, and strong-headed.

The book centers around Agnieszka and the Dragon. You know right from the start (from the synopsis even) that the Dragon picks her as his “chosen girl.” Why he takes the girls from the surrounding villages, and what he really does with them, no one knows, and the reader follows along on Agnieszka‘s journey of discovery.

That journey has three major arcs, which I’ll outline as follows…

  • Arc 1 – Learning about the Dragon and the Wood
  • Arc 2 – Agnieszka goes to visit the king (won’t spoil it more than that)
  • Arc 3 – Conclusion of Arcs 1 & 2 and tying together the bigger story

I have to say by far Arc 1 was my favorite. The tension between Agnieszka and the Dragon, her learning magic, and the effects of her being taken are shrouded in so much delicious mystery that’s fed in little bites to the readers.

Now, I have to say a bit about the Dragon… Magic users in Novik’s world are immortal (or mostly immortal, they can die, but they have insanely long lifespans and I’ll be honest and say that I’m not sure if they can die of natural causes. But, Novik may have explained it and I may have missed it.). Any time you have immortal characters I think there’s such a great opportunity to see how that immortality changes people. Novik doesn’t miss that opportunity. You meet immortal people at different points in their lifetimes and you can see how it’s changed them. The Dragon specifically has clearly adopted a “hands off” type of approach to the world. You, the reader, can tell that from Agnieszka’s point of view the Dragon is almost an idea, a concept, a thing even, than a man based on everything she’s ever heard about him from the rumors in the villages surrounding his tower.

And the transition of the Dragon from that entity to being a man with a soul and heart is very satisfying to see. Agnieszka and he are polar opposites. I think there’s a discussion that can be had here of man versus nature. The Dragon lives in his tower, a controlled world full of carefully calculated ease. Agnieszka is like a force of nature. She’s wild, unpredictable, and mess seems to be attracted to her like a magnet. You’d think the “opposites attract” to be a bit cliche, but Novik pulls it off beautifully.

When those opposites do “attract” and come together (two specific scenes come to mind) it’s very satisfying for the reader. Very. Satisfying. But I won’t say more than that.

As important as Agnieszka and the Dragon’s relationship is to the story, that’s not the root conflict. Why the Dragon is taking the girls and the mysterious force that is the wood (a literal forest with creepy creatures to match) are what’s plaguing the world. Again, we have a man versus nature conflict here. The wood is threatening to consume the world as they know it and the Dragon’s chief job is to keep it at bay.

But, what is the wood? And why does it destroy as it does? What originally is assumed by the reader to be a mindless thing (it just is, like a spider catching flies or a cat rodents) evolves to have a motive, a reason, and a sentience that is downright unnerving at times.

In the second arc I outlined above Agnieszka goes to try to relay what she and the Dragon have uncovered about the wood and put an end to it once and for all. Of course, things don’t go as planned. This was my least favorite arc. Why? Because the Dragon wasn’t in it. I threw down my kindle and pouted and then rejoiced at his return for arc 3.

The other reason why I didn’t like arc 2 as much was I kept worrying about Novik being able to wrap up the story in time. The world seemed to be expanding beyond what the pages left could conclude. But this was certainly not the case.

The end of the story was surprising, satisfying, and made perfect sense to the motivations of all the characters. It was well worth the journey and had the reader holding their breath until the last page when Novik wrapped things up with a perfect little bow with long enough ends that makes me go, “Can I please have a book two?” (It doesn’t need a book two, it just could have one, and I want one.)

I’d recommend this book for anyone who enjoys darker fairy tales. A lot of Novik’s inspiration I feel can be seen in classic fairy tales with her own twist in a new world. I’d also recommend this for anyone looking for an older YA/Adult fantasy. It’s technically classified as an adult book (there’s sex and violence) but I think it’s something I would’ve definitely read in my sophomore year of High School and up. Finally, I’d recommend it for people who appreciate a good romance, because it definitely has that.

I love Novik’s writing and this world. It makes me want to pick up her other books even when the synopses alone wouldn’t have sold me. Because of all of the above, I have no hesitation in giving Uprooted:

5 Out of 5 Named Sorcerers

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