Uprooted is about Agnieska, a farmer’s daughter in a vaguely Eastern European land. Agnieska’s town lives in fear of The Dragon, a magician who lives in a secluded tower, protects the land from the malevolent Wood, and every ten years steals one of the town’s young women. Agnieska is one of the group of young women that will be up for selection this year. Usually the woman selected is the most beautiful and most talented, so Agnieska is sure it will be her best friend Kasia.
I’m not a huge fan of fairy tale adaptations, but while this book has a Beauty and the Beast vibe, it goes from that to a fairly complicated romance to a really epic fantasy story. I will say, this is no quick read, and at times it felt a bit longer than it should be. But that said, this is a book you sink your teeth into, a book with real world-building and complicated magic. I loved all the references to Polish folklore – Novik is part-Polish, as I am.
It’s getting rave reviews from other bloggers, and if I was a little less enthused about it, I think it’s partly not a genre I love. I read a lot of fantasy, but it doesn’t grab me as much as it used to. For example, if you really like reading about spell-casting, this is the book for you. Novik spends a lot of time explaining how Agnieska and the Dragon’s spells work. Me, I’m okay with pointing wands at things and having the magic shoot out. But Novik gives magic much more thought – which I’m imagining many readers will love.
Another thing about fantasy I don’t love is that the hero or heroine always “magically” knows what to do whenever they are in trouble. This book relies on that a bit too much, although I like that Novik contrasts formal magical learning (the Dragon tries in vain to teach her) with the sort of magic-from-the-gut approach.
Agnieska is a strong heroine, and Novik does a great job developing her character. She’s very headstrong at first and has to learn to temper powers with wisdom. She’s not beautiful and not perfect. She makes mistakes and learns from them. One of my favorite parts is a scene where she and her friend Kasia sort of see into each other’s heads, and see all the complicated jealousies and resentments that friendships always have. For example, Agnieska resents Kasia for being beautiful and perfect, and for not being taken by The Dragon. Kasia resents Agnieska because she grew up in fear of the Dragon, with her family being afraid to get close to her. And now Agnieska gets this grand adventure and magical powers, while Kasia’s just a peasant girl again.
This is epic fantasy first and romance second. Agnieska and the Dragon have a world to save, after all. I liked all the intrigue and corruption, with people changing sides and betraying each other on a regular basis. There’s a definite Lord of the Rings feel to the story, with the magic being so powerful, it creeps into the human psyche – and the weak humans are only too happy to tear each other apart instead of fighting their real enemy.
In short, I can highly recommend this book if you like good fantasy and good writing. In some ways, this book was Harry Potter for grown-ups, with Hermione at the center. I found the magic to be a little more detailed than I needed, but if you like witchcraft and spell-casting, you will love this book. I mostly enjoyed it for the characters and the Polish mythology.
Note: I received an advance copy of this book from Edelweiss and publisher Del Rey in exchange for an honest review. This book will be released May 19, 2015.