Joint Review: “Uprooted” Exceeds Expectations

22544764Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Del Rey: May 19, 2015 (Fantasy Romance; Retellings)*

The Book…

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.

The Outstanding Adventure…

Uprooted was a wonderful read, in fact, both Stacey and I rated this one an outstanding adventure! Of course, that doesn’t mean that we didn’t love different things about the book.

Jaclyn’s Adventure

Uprooted was a fantastic read for me. The writing evokes the old fashioned, atmospheric quality of a a fairy tale from the very beginning:

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 through 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.

In Agnieszka’s village the Dragon chooses a girl once every ten years. The young woman selected is bound in service to the Dragon, and when they are released at twenty-seven they are set free, usually leaving the valley by the Wood for good. In this story it’s Agnieszka who is unexpectedly chosen to serve the Dragon. Agnieszka was never considered refined enough to serve the illustrious wizard, rather it’s her best friend, Kasia, who was thought to be chosen. Naturally, Agnieszka is terrified to be selected and her fear is not unfounded especially when she’s pressed into using magic that she had no idea that she even possessed. It doesn’t help that the Dragon is a rude and detached man that seems to care nothing for the actual people that he protects by holding the Wood at bay.

While Agnieszka’s abilities don’t manifest in the expected, methodical practice that the Dragon would have liked, Agnieszka does have a connection with the land of her village and more dangerously, the Wood that they protect everyone from.

The Wood has slowly crept forward over the years, taking land and people alike, transforming them into the unrecognizable. When Kasia is taken, Agnieszka risks everything to find her friend, setting off a chain of events that has serious repercussions for Agnieszka and the Dragon.

While the setting, premise and language used are evocative, what I really enjoyed about Uprooted was its depiction of the friendship between Agnieszka and Kasia as well as the symbolism of the Wood.

Agnieszka was an excellent character in her own right. I loved her naivety and drive to do good, but I also liked her commitment to her friendship. When Kasia is taken into the Wood, Agnieszka is well aware that it is unlikely that she’ll be able to save her friend, but she must try. This leads to a wonderful moment in the book where both young women see each other’s petty jealousies and grievances towards one another. Agnieszka is jealous of Kasia’s poise and beauty, Kasia is jealous of Agnieszka’s relationship with her parents and the freedom that she experienced as the unlikely choice for the Dragon. What’s fantastic about this moment is that Agnieszka recognizes their differences and anger towards one another and goes forward. There’s no real conflict from their mutual grievances, there’s just a steadfast friendship between two young women thrust into a difficult situation who continue to remain friends with an awareness that neither are perfect.

The Wood was also an interesting concept in Uprooted. The author plays around quite a bit with the theme of “rooting” to a specific place or person. Agnieszka is the embodiment of an attachment to a specific place. She loves her village and the people that she shares that life with, even if it means living in the shadow of the dangerous Wood. In contrast, the Dragon would do anything to avoid making a commitment to the people and the land of the village. And it’s the idea of an attachment or “rooting” that is at the heart of the problem of the Wood. The theme is beautifully executed and flows extraordinarily well with the overarching plot of the novel.

Ultimately, Uprooted is a wonderful, adventurous tale perfect for those who have seemingly outgrown fairy tales. This one has great writing, great characters, a compelling plot, and a subdued romance. I only wish that I could read this again for the first time to appreciate its loveliness.

Stacey’s Adventure

Wow. What a rollicking read. The premise alone sucked me in, with the unexceptional heroine, the dragon-not-a-dragon, and the rocky start to their co-habitation. The plot, the mystery of the Wood, and the ever-increasing pace and action kept me reading right to the very last page.

What begins as a Cinderella-esque tale (the drudgery in the castle part, anyway) rapidly becomes much more complex than that. Agnieszka discovers she has the ability to do magic, and one of the best illustrations of the wonderful characters is the way she learns about magic from the Dragon. Unexpectedly, she has a completely different way of doing magic than the Dragon, which they both find frustrating (and the reader may find amusing).

While the plot drives much of the action, it is also driven by the relationships between the characters. Arguably the strongest relationship is the friendship of Agnieszka and her best friend, Kasia. No relationship in this novel is simple, and no character is one-dimensional.

Agnieszka is almost too perfect, but that is balanced by her unique approach to problems, especially the encroaching Wood. Unlike the rest of her country, her king, the Dragon, and her fellow villagers, she begins to see the truth of the Wood and feel compassion for it. The biggest twist of all relies on her ability to see the good in the being that everyone is certain is Evil. Through her eyes, readers come to see the complexity of the supposedly single-minded creature that eats humans. I loved this about her. She starts out naive, as Jaclyn mentions, but as she learns and grows, she becomes wiser and more knowledgeable about the human heart. It ends up that she has more to teach the Dragon, than he has to teach her.

The Dragon was almost too crotchety and impatient, but I truly enjoyed reading between the lines to figure out what motivates him. Why he did things was revealed in how he did them, which is a trick that makes characters more interesting, I find. And I loved his reactions to the continually surprising Agnieszka.

The Wood itself, as a character, has many facets, and as the Dragon and Agnieszka fight for a way to protect the human valley, its emotions, perspective, and motivation gradually become known to the reader. Agnieszka’s resolution to the problem of the Wood is especially poignant.

Speaking of the ending, I thought the resolution of the relationship between the Dragon and Agnieszka was perfect. So much better than I expected.

The dynamic characters, the complicated relationships, the fairy tale vibe, and the fast-lane plot are all reasons to pick up this book. Really. Don’t miss it.

*Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Similar Reads

While the romance didn’t play a strong role in Uprooted, I still really enjoyed it and was immediately put in mind of Grace Draven’s Master of Crows. This is another fantasy title; however, it has a much stronger romance. Martise has been sent to serve/spy on the sorcerer, Silhara (a set up very similar to Uprooted) who is reputed to be influenced by the god, Corruption. If you wanted more romance in Uprooted, Master of Crows is an excellent follow-up.

Master of Crows (Master of Crows, #1)

For another read/watch alike, Howl’s Moving Castle is another one that would be a great follow-up. The anime film version of Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle was exactly what came to mind when I read Uprooted. While the film and the book are much lighter in tone and theme, I think the set-up will appeal quite a bit to readers.

Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle, #1) Howl's Moving Castle (2004) Poster

You may already be familiar with Robin McKinley. The Blue Sword and Uprooted have in common the forced removal of the heroine who has unrealized magical potential.

MicKinley has also written several fairytale retellings, including a collection of four tales. In one, the princesses of a kingdom neighboring Faerieland are stolen away on their seventeenth birthdays.

Another oldie-but-goodie is The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, by another master of fantasy and fairy tales, Patricia A. McKillip. Sybel, a solitary wizard, learns about compassion and love when a stranger brings her an infant to raise and keep safe. (Incidentally, the McK… section was my most-visited at the library when I was a child).

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10 comments

  1. Brilliant review for possibly my favorite novel ever, you’ve hit my favorite points, especially the Wood as its own struggling character. Thanks!
    One question, I see “retellings” along with ‘fantasy and romance’, is that a genre? What story is this novel retelling?

    1. Hi Erin, thanks for the comment and sorry for the delay in responding. Uprooted was brilliant! Fantasy romance is indeed a genre; it’s a subgenre that combines fantasy elements and is heavier on the romance elements than a traditional fantasy novel. As for retelling, we’re aware that’s not really a genre but we tend to be a little generous with our categorization for our own organizational purposes. Uprooted has a couple of retellings happening in it; there’s a “beauty and the beast” vibe going on (although I wouldn’t say it’s as strong as other retellings). And, Uprooted is also heavily grounded in Eastern European folklore. I hope that answers your questions!

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