“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.
I am not a fan of dragons, so I have not tried Novik’s more popular Temeraire series (also to be filmed soon by Peter Jackson of LoTR fame). A decision I need to change, obviously, if the series is anything like Uprooted. Because this book. This. Book. It is written like a fairytale, it has a juicy mystery that keeps you on tenterhooks, it speaks of relationships that are realistic and beautiful, and it has cover art which is glorious. What's not to love?
The premise is simple: an evil forest is taking over the world, the mystery is why and the problem is how to stop it. Kudos to Novik on the hair-raising way she describes the many ways that the Forest has become a near insurmountable and eerie force across the kingdom.
Agnieszka is the heroine of the book, a witch who may or may not have the power to stop the Forest’s infiltration. When the Dragon (not a real dragon) decides to choose Agnieszka instead of Kasia, everybody is surprised and nobody is really happy. But ultimately, that is the game changer in the fight against the Forest.
Plotwise, the book is pretty localised. It takes place in one particular village at the edges of the Forest, then within the palace ramparts, and then back to the same village. But so much happens within these few locales, you won’t really complain. Every time you think you have the story figured out, there comes a twist in the tale. Every time you encounter a dead end, you also find a way out. It's the "how" of it which keeps you hurtling through pages in the middle of the night.
So many people have put Uprooted on their Best of 2015 list already, and with good reason. If you have ever read Russian folk tales in the past and have loved them, you will definitely like Uprooted’s writing style. If you have liked Bujold’s Paladin of Souls or Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series (two very different types of books), you will like Uprooted’s plot-weavings and world-building too. Everything happens for a reason, and all those reasons make sense by the end. There’s something universal about this book: something for everyone to like and remember long after.
Its hard to put everything I feel about this book into words. I only remember how I felt while I was reading it. I read so many books a year, I rarely have time to go back and re-read them. But I think I will re-read Uprooted often enough.
Recommended. 10 Stars.