Fairy-tale, folklore and Eastern European names are huge sellers when you are delving into fantasy. Add magic into the mix and you have a hit amongst yourselves. I am a sucker for some good fantasy novels, but unless you have a lot of time in your hands (or you can read without getting distracted by social media), to read fantasy magical books is just a dream.
Most fantasy books are entirely long and sprawled into huge series. Some trusted few authors can serve up a trilogy, but most authors keep on writing and we greedily keep asking for more (seriously Cassandra Clare, how many books have you written, not that I am complaining). That’s where Uprooted comes in.
Naomi Novik’s 2015 novel Uprooted is a stand-alone book that has mystery, magic, love, fantasy, folklore, and a strong female character all rolled into one. It could have been stretched out into a trilogy easily, but Naomi compressed the incidents into a fast-paced book that just isn’t putdownable.
Uprooted is a story inspired by the author’s Polish background and has remnants of the Polish fables. With character names like Agnieszka and Kasia, and references to Polish beasts and fairy characters, the book has a striking personality to itself. The novel also serves the reader very different antagonists from those that are usually portrayed in other fantasies. And the point of you being able to finish a book in a day and not having to wait ages for the next book is always a plus.
The story begins in the fictional magical kingdom of Polnya, in the village of Dvernik where every ten years the local wizard called the Dragon collects a teenage girl as payment for protecting the village against the Wood (creepy magical forest). The protagonist of the story, Agnieszka knows she isn’t going to be selected, because every decade only the brightest and the smartest women are chosen and Agnieszka’s best friend Kasia has been the loveliest, strongest and smarted young woman from the village. Kasia was smarter, and bred to be stronger, and the protagonist was oddly proud of her best friend’s feats and yet upset that she would be taken away. However, on the day of the selection, Agnieszka gets picked and thus starts the plot of the story (yes, but that is the only predictable part of the novel).
The Dragon is a century old wizard who protects the village, and one of the most powerful mages of the Kingdom of Polnya. However, he lives all by himself in a far off tower, except for the women he literally kidnaps (I know what you readers are thinking and I will address that later). He had selected Agnieszka for magical powers of hers, that she was unaware of, and therefore begins to train her by teaching her cantrips.
I won’t delve further into the plot because everything that you read on from here is crucial to the unfolding of the story of Uprooted and might be considered a spoiler. Uprooted is however a 350 page fast-paced read that is remarkable in a way because you will instantly connect with the protagonist of the story. She is strong, she is bold, and she is powerful and she knows when and how to assert herself. She is truly a character who is deserving of being the narrator and is likable immediately. In this one scene in the King’s court where she has to prove herself she single-handedly causes an Earthquake to the dismay of older and more powerful sorcerers. She cares for Kasia when she is hurt to the point of hurting her own self in order to make heal.
The book isn’t what you would expect. It is not a slovenly romance, but a tryst about friendship, intimacy and education where Agnieszka learns every day. Yes, there is romance between the characters and it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who the couple is (even though I would much prefer Kasia and Nieshka together).
The Dragon is however a problematic character because he is verbally abusive and quite literally captures women, keeping them in captivity for a decade. But, it is not a 365 Days scenario, thank God! The Dragon doesn’t want the women to form any kind of attachment with him, which is why he is rude and elusive. And, there is indeed a specific reason why the women are captured, just saying, but I mean Uprooted could have done without the capturing portion and still the book would have turned out fine.
Nonetheless, Uprooted isn’t a sob fest where Agnieszka wants the Dragon and the book isn’t one that delves into just their love story. It has war, death, fights, magic and after reading it you’d feel like you’ve indeed completed a trilogy when you actually haven’t. Naomi Novik is indeed a skilled author because you can hear the Wood screeching and howling, and you can feel the tender moments shared by Kasia and Agnieszka. No wonder Uprooted won like three awards including the 2015 Nebula Award for Best Novel.
Hence fantasy lovers read Uprooted, it is not what you’d normally expect. And, Warner Brothers has purchased the rights of the books so maybe a movie adaptation is coming soon!
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