New York Times best selling author Naomi Novik takes readers on a comfortingly familiar and yet excitingly new and refreshing folk tale inspired journey in Uprooted, 2015’s Nebula award winner for Best Novel and Hugo Award Finalist.
The small village of Dovnik sits on the edge of a corrupted forest that is always seeking to stretch out beyond its borders. A cold, solitary wizard, The Dragon, protects the village from the ever-encroaching evil of the wood, but in return, every ten years he selects a young woman from one of the surrounding villages to leave her home and return with him to the isolated tower where he lives. The novel opens with the Dragon selecting, to everyone’s surprise (even his own) the clumsy, earthy Agnieszka, instead of her best friend, the beautiful and talented Kasia. Agnieszka learns that she’s been selected because she, like the Dragon, can do magic and Novik leads readers on a quest with Agnieszka as she comes to terms with her own abilities, navigates her new home and often adversarial relationship with the Dragon, and seeks to save her friend, and the villages, from the evil of the wood.
In the middle of reading multiple series with often continually growing extensions (not complaining, I love a good epicly-long series!), the idea of taking on a standalone story was exciting, and Naomi Novik’s Uprooted packs so much into it’s 464 pages that I found myself wishing for those sequels as I flipped the last page! Not that the novel felt rushed, but the world the Novik creates is so rich and textured that Uprooted could have easily filled three volumes.
I love love love to see a strong female friendship in YA and Fantasy novels, so the opening of Uprooted immediately drew me with its introduction to the friendship between Agnieszka and Kasia. It is Agnieszka’s love for her friend that truly drives the plot of this novel. The complexity of emotions between the friends, the love, the jealously, the bitterness that are all part of all relationships and that we all work through to make it long term with someone, friend or otherwise, are worked out expertly and feelingly here.
The expression of magic in novel too, the intricacies and the personality of the forms of magic Novik draws on and the way it expresses itself in individuals, is incredibly compelling. Magic is both personal and felt as well as studied and learned, and this allows for both exciting moments of action and more intimate expressions of self through magic.
Overall, I truly loved this book! Uprooted does exactly what I think is most interesting and exciting about YA as a genre, and YA Fantasy/SciFi especially: it crosses genres and age gaps, telling an incredible story that will be moving, exciting, and relatable (even in a world of wizards and evil trees!) to all ages.
A spoilery afterthought…
(spoilers below for Uprooted, so skip the next paragraph if you haven’t read these books yet!)
I am not a huge fan of the oft-used fantasy trope of the very old immortal/slowly aging creature who still looks young and the actually quite young and inexperienced heroine getting together. While I can usually suspend the creep factor of it when reading and enjoy the love story if it’s well written, it’s problematic to me, especially when the differences aren’t addressed in the novel, or when the relationship moves from condescending parent/child one to intimate lovers. That being said, I think it can work in some cases, when the author’s don’t try to pretend the characters don’t have totally different pasts, futures, experiences, maturity levels, etc.) Maybe I’m just over thinking things? I’d love to here from others on how they feel about these types of relationships!
Novik, Naomi. Uprooted. New York: Del Ray, 2016. Print.