Uprooted could initially be mistaken for a YA novel, but after reading a few pages one realizes that this is far from the case. 17-year-old Agnieszka lives in a small village in the shadow of an enormous tower. Every 10 years, an immortal wizard named The Dragon leaves this tower and claims a young girl from the village. The peasants fear he ruins these girls, as after their stay in the tower they rarely comes back to the village to stay and usually run off quickly to go to parts unknown. All her life, Agnieszka has believed her beautiful friend, Kasia, will be taken and life will remain the same. Agnieska’s life is turned upside down when she is chosen instead of Kasia and must go to the tower to live with The Dragon. However, when she arrives she discovers the real secret to what dangers lie beyond the edge of the woods and the true power within her.
Uprooted is the type of novel that gives the fantasy genre a good name. Author Naomi Novik’s characters are interesting to read about and manage to step out of the cliche titles of Wizard or Witch and take on lives that cause the reader to turn page after page without realizing it. Agnieszka begins the book as a klutzy village girl who believes that her best hopes are to marry, have children and remain close to the village she was raised in. This is despite the horrors of creatures that come from the nearby wood and a sickness that makes villages mad and murderous. It is the life she has always known and she is not prepared to be taken to a tower. Her changes begin subtly, but we start to see the true power she has at her fingertips, as well as her bravery and creativity in the face of terrifying situations. Also, unlike most fantasy novels, Agnieska possesses a strong sexuality and exhibits it through out the book without overwhelming the reader. She has desires! She has skills! She learns! She has strong friendships! She is a complete character!
The Dragon is also fascinating. While many immortal characters are given this strange 2-D existence, The Dragon has a grumpiness about him that seems to not match his younger face. He does not try to be a romantic lead, but rather a complicated individual with a bad attitude and a skill set far beyond his like. He keeps secrets and gets frustrated when others can’t pick up his train of thought. I did also love the fact that Noviak chooses to have him point out his age during a particular encounter with Agnieszka, rather than just pretending like their age difference isn’t weird.
Uprooted is filled with battles, political intrigue, strength of will and interesting spells and stories that seem to favor the tales of Eastern Europe. Novik is a skilled writer and her characters feel like people the reader may know with just a bit extra added. I was sad when the pages were over and desperately wanted more.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik is available from Del Ray Books.