The gorgeous cover says it all. For those who love a dark re-telling of a fairy tale – in this case, a fairy tale rooted in Slavic folklore and definitely NOT for children – this is the one for you. Or at least, it is the one for me. But you should read it too.
In the country of Polyna, 17 year old Agnieszka lives in a quiet valley village beside a shining river, the Spindle, surrounded by mountains and trees. But it is not all quiet and peaceful; the corrupted Wood, a dark forest full of evil and menace, throws a malevolent shadow over the entire country.
In the tall tower overlooking the Valley is the Dragon, a powerful and remote wizard who serves the King and keeps the evil of the Wood in check. He receives a yearly tribute for his work from the surrounding villages, but every ten years he exacts a higher price from the people: he takes a 17 year old girl to serve him for the following decade. Upon completion of service, the girls are released with a sizeable dowry. Why they are chosen, or for what, is a mystery.
Agnieszka is afraid. Born in a choosing year, she and all girls of her age will gather at the festival and the Dragon will choose his next companion. Everyone knows he will take Kasia, Agnieszka’s dearest and only friend, brave, beautiful and special, and trained for years to serve him. But when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he chooses.
Every once in a while, you come across a story that crawls into your brain, curls up, and refuses to leave. Uprooted is that story for me.
Agnieszka is a fabulous heroine. She is a disaster, sartorially, and manages to attract mud and spills and dust and cobwebs just moving through life. We must be related. She also discovers that she has magic, a deep, powerful, unusual magic, one that doesn’t follow the typical path of spells and potions. She learns to control it through feeling and song and vision. Her development from a terrified girl, helpless, to a powerful and confident wizard is so beautifully done.
The Dragon is, sadly, not a dragon. I love dragons. The wizards of Polyna are given names that reflect their individual power when they attain a place on the List by first defending their magic before a panel of judges. The Dragon is a bit of an ass, but he is powerful. More than a century old, he remains distant from the valley he protects. Too old to change, he softens slightly under Agnieszka’s influence.
Of all the other characters, such as Prince Marek, a somewhat bitter spare to the throne, Solya the jealous wizard, Queen Hanna, taken and corrupted by the Wood, and Alosha the ancient wizard of swords, among others, Kasia is the only one who remains unknowable. Odd, considering her importance to Agnieszka, and that author Naomi Novik wrote a such a wonderfully realistic relationship between the two girls, full of friendship, trust and love. Maybe it is the influence of the Wood…?
The world building is gorgeous, the writing so evocative. Throughout the novel, I wandered with Agnieszka through the dusty village, paddled in the shining Spindle, collected berries in the fields and feared the dark Wood. I am rooted in the Valley. But the Wood is horrifying; I will never look at a tree the same way again.
I love the plot. LOVE it. It is complex and layered and disturbing and gorgeous and action packed and by the end you will be holding your breath and hoping for resolution to come. There is political intrigue and magical warfare. It is not for the faint of heart.
Uprooted is beautifully written, examining the nuances of good and evil, love, friendship, and loyalty to king and country. It is a dark story, and I don’t know that it will appeal to everyone. Like so many classic fairy tales, there is a side to it that holds horror by the hand. It is, perhaps, suitable for the upper end of the YA range, given the violence and darkness it explores.
Uprooted was published May 19th 2015 by Del Rey.