Uprooted by Naomi Novik
The first thing that intrigued me about this book was the fact that it is a standalone fantasy book. I must confess, today you don’t see fantasy stand alones that much. It is more often that, if you choose to read a fantasy book, it’s probably going to be a part of series. Sometimes that is a good thing. And sometimes, it really isn’t.
I was interested to see how Naomi Novik executed the world building in her fantasy book. It is not easy to successfully “pack” the entire fantasy world into one book. This was the main reason why I picked Uprooted for reading.
The story follows 17-year-old Agnieszka who has been living in a village with her family all her life. Things can be difficult however, because there is a dangerous Wood nearby that corrupts people if they come into contact with it. In order to keep the Wood at bay, the villagers rely on the help of the Dragon, a powerful wizard. As compensation for his efforts, the Dragon demands a tribute: every ten years he picks a girl and takes her to his castle where she will serve him for the following ten years.
Agnieszka, as a protagonist, isn’t your typical, strong, confident fantasy heroine. She is quite clumsy and always creates a mess around her. She constantly gets herself into trouble. But she is also kind. The main problem some will have with this character is that this kind of characterization (clumsy, messy, but very special and, ultimately, savior of the world) became wide spread in YA fantasy genre.
Then we have the Dragon, centuries old wizard, incredibly powerful, who lives alone in a castle and watches over the Wood and nearby villages. Aloof and ambitious, meticulous and uptight. The perfect counter-balance to Agnieszka. Having those two together in one room screams conflict. And conflicts they had.
And let us not forget Kasia, Agnieszka’s best friend. The relationship between these two was heart-warming. Kasia is beautiful, graceful and brave, everyone loves her and yet, Nieshka doesn’t feel bitter. She loves Kasia and wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice herself to save her and vice versa. Their relationship was beautiful but also realistic.
This novel creates incredible atmosphere that makes the story even more captivating. Novik based the world on Polish culture and folklore, which added another layer of originality and authenticity to the whole. The world was dark and whimsical and coupled with Novik’s beautiful writing.
When reading fantasy novels, you can easily see the same (or very similar) prototypes of villains over and over again. There is always an evil king or queen who wants to rule the world and has no conscience. But here we have something completely new: A villain that isn’t a human but a wood, The Wood.
My overall impression? I feel like the first part of Uprooted is quite slow paced and it was hard to stay interested in the story. I had some problems with the main character, mostly because sometimes she was way too clumsy to appear believable. The first half of the book was a struggle, but the second half was much more interesting, full of unexpected events, plot developments and betrayals. Characters do grow in the end and you get to see them in different light. But still, I feel like I was reading this book for forever, and if I wasn’t an extremely stubborn reader who can’t NOT finish a book, I would most likely leave Uprooted unread. However, many people seem to like it, so you might give it a chance. The fact that is a fantasy stand alone book gives you one reason more to give it a go.
And I wasn’t old enough to be wise, so I loved her more, not less, because I knew she would be taken from me soon.
Magic was singing in me, through me; I felt the murmur of his power singing back that same song.
There was a song in this forest, too, but it was a savage song, whispering of madness and tearing and rage.