Synopsis: “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.
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Genres: High Fantasy
I'm not gonna lie, Uprooted is a strange book. Not what I expected, but best-described as bewitching nonetheless, captivating and purely interesting. Prior to actually reading it, I might've painted it in a Deathless manner, hoping for a radical fantasy, dark and shiver-inducing. I partly got that, but my high expectations sizzled out to embers when it sometimes turned out to be too intricate to understand or too vague to comprehend, although unique.
Welcome to a world of magic and corruption, where the Wood wreaks havoc on kingdoms and souls alike, having a mind of its own, with a glorious intention of creating chaos and destruction. This idea of something made of power and corruption being the ultimate villain is SO NICE. Sadly though, I've already read about it. Twice, if I might add: in the Orphan Queen, where the Wood equates to the Wraith, and then in A Darker Shade of Magic where Vitari is on a whole other level. However, the world-building in this regard is developed differently, especially in the end of the novel, where I had sudden visuals of Game of Thrones' Children of the Forest.
In this world, the Dragon, a powerful wizard and overlord of the valley, takes a different 17-year old girl every ten years to his tower, without other apparent reason than his like to do so. He releases the girls unscathed once time's up, educated, in finery and with dowry. And this where our heroine enters the play -- Agnieszka is chosen after living her whole life rest assured that her best friend, the all too-perfect Kasia, will be taken. Plot twist for her, I suppose.
The Dragon, is simply put, an asshole. Behavior-wise, I mean. A prick, arrogant, stuck-up, old and cranky asshole. But damn it, he's lovable. I did not like him one bit in the beginning, especially with his superior demeanor, but he grew on me the sneaky bastard. And ohemgee his sarcasm is from another planet. Teach me your ways, master!
What I appreciated the most about him though was the realistic depiction of how time, or rather immortality, cripples you of humanity, of relationships and of sensibility. The utter loneliness, the incapability of putting down roots when time whisks them away bit by bit like grains of sand, the fact that someone needs to teach you to appreciate life and love and the days yet again is just plain... sad. But it still had a great impact on how it built the Dragon's character, it made him who he is, along with his overly posh and knowledge-hungry persona.
“What an unequaled gift for disaster you have.”
Agnieszka is totally original and different from any other heroine. Innocent and brave and with the spunk and terrifying determination to make even kings shudder. I thoroughly enjoyed her inquisitive mind and her kindness, not to mention her fierceness. I would've liked not to have been reminded every two pages though that she's not the prettiest of the bunch or that she's incredibly messy. I got it the first 100 times, thank you.
“I was a glaring blot on the perfection. But I didn't care: I didn't feel I owed him beauty.”
The plot centers around the Wood's evil plans and strategic approaches to bring doom to Polnya, but despite being well-crafted and exciting, I felt my mind wandering off. I kept reading though. I kept picking the book up every time I put it down. Just because my curiosity got the best of me and needed to see how it all unfolded. But that doesn't mean I was completely engaged and immersed into the story.
Another of the aspects that ticked me was the world-building as in the sense that it had barely any logic, or if it did it lost me on the way. I had to read certain revelations multiple times to truly understand what was happening and other times I didn't even bother. For a standalone, it's too complex and I constantly felt that the essence in the plot and universe were underdeveloped. The language, for once, which was confusing and tiring and basically random. The Slavonian and Russian mix of folklore. The endless unanswered questions I was left with: how does magic appear? What happens in the University? Why not show us Rosya? What is Agnieszka's connection to Baba Jaga? What does it mean for her and the other wizards and magic in general? As I said, underdeveloped and surface-deeply approached. In addition to all these, there were a plethora of wonderfully nuanced secondary characters that I would've loved to find out more about, Alosha and Solya in particular, but didn't get the chance.
There was a drop of romance and I selfishly wanted more. In spite of the action-focus and magic whirlwind, the ending gave my heart a few happy sighs and satisfying smiles and I need to admit I was fangirling. I'm guilty of falling for anything romance related.
“I wanted to rub handprints through his dust.”
The writing style was... weird. It had astounding potential and it attested Naomi Novik's skills at handling a fantasy world, but fitting it into a seventeen year old's school of thought was forced and somewhat artificial, its normally enrapturing nature being at odds with the redundancy of mundane thinking.
I can understand the enchantment surrounding Uprooted, but the colossal hype is beyond me. Or perhaps that was my undoing -- the fact that this hype had me expecting... more. Do not misunderstand me, it had everything I could have wanted, but my detachment from the plot grated on my nerves.
All in all, Uprooted was a different, but fascinating tale. I urge you to give it a try, even if it seems I downright hated it. Which I most certainly did not. On the contrary, I liked it a lot, just not enough to call it a favorite, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable read.