Author: Naomi Novik
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“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.”
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.
This is a spruced-up version of a review I wrote on my old blog last year for Uprooted. This book instantly became an all-time favorite of mine and even won the Nebula Award last spring!
Uprooted was scary, fun, and even at times romantic. It’s similar to Patricia McKillip’s novels in that it has a pastoral fairy tale feel, but is longer, with a more complex plot.
When the Dragon (an ageless wizard) chooses Agnieszka as a tribute of sorts, she begins to study magic with him. The two are very different and their dynamic is one of my favorite things about this book. I love that Agnieszka remains a snarly-haired wild thing with dirty clothes through to the end. Heroines are commonly written as viewing themselves to be average while actually being described as anything but. It’s a pet-peeve of mine and I am so glad it didn’t happen here. Agnieskza’s oddness suits the nature-focused, intuitive, right-brained style of magic that flows through her (all the while mystifying and infuriating her teacher!). Her value lies in her abilities and her loyal tenacious nature, much of this is highlighted via her relationship with her best friend Kasia.
The Dragon (whose name is Sarkan), is like wizardry’s answer to Henry Higgins, though there are some key inner and outer differences. He appears young and his attitude comes from isolation and social ineptitude rather than selfish vanity. Ultimately the Dragons life work has been one done in service to protect others. But regardless of how his feelings for Agnieszka evolve over time, he is grouchy and combative more often than not. This made scenes where he reveals either passion or tenderness that much more surprising and satisfying.
Agnieszka however is no Galatea, and remains the opposite of Sarkan in most ways. Sarkan practices a very left-brained precise style of magic with powerful results. He admires both beauty and order. There is very little about her that suits his sensibilities, but as they work through various crises with the wood, Kasia, and members of the royal family, a mutually beneficial and stimulating dynamic develops through the embracing and joining of opposites. Novik never allows this to overshadow the larger story, but it continually simmers in the background.
I don’t want to give away much about the plot. The Wood, which is sentient and capable of devouring whole villages, is the nemesis of the story. But as I got closer to understanding why, it all felt more sad than it did evil or frightening. The connection between man and nature is important to this story which I love. A combination of lovable characters, charming world-building, and an exciting and creepy plot has earned Uprooted a place on my list of all-time favorite fantasy novels.