‘Uprooted’ is heavily inspired by Central European fairytales and could loosely be classified as a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ retelling. It’s a slow burner, but gradually weaves a captivating and beautiful story.
Agnieszka loves the quiet Polish village she’s grown up in – but all the villagers live in fear of the neighbouring Dark Wood and the malevolent powers within. Their only defence from the wood is the Dragon – a cold, mysterious wizard who lives in a nearby tower. For his protection, the Dragon demands a price – every ten years, he selects a young woman from the village to spend the next decade serving him. He always chooses the most beautiful villager. Agniezska was born in a tribute year, but she’s sure her best friend Kezia – beautiful, polite, perfect – will be the one chosen. However, to everyone’s surprise, the Dragon selects Agnieszka instead – and now Agnieszka faces ten years with the Dragon, a fate considered worse than being abandoned to the Dark Wood itself.
Agnieszka is exactly the sort of heroine you want to root for. She resents her circumstances and is far from the polished lady of the tower – she’s clumsy, with no eye for fashion or beauty – but she’s loyal to a fault, filled with determination and sure of herself. Everything about her is highly relatable, and she manages to be strong without seeming two-dimensional. In contrast, the Dragon remains mysterious throughout – little tidbits of his past and character are revealed in places, but he’s very much kept shrouded, with Agnieszka the focus of the story. His interpretation is left to the reader’s discretion – a bold move, but one which works well here without seeming like a cop-out.
One of the biggest strengths of ‘Uprooted’ is the magic system. It takes some time for this to be revealed, but the novel becomes far more engaging and enjoyable once its role begins. It’s a simple system, but it fits the fairytale theme and its fun to learn about it at the same time as the protagonist. I do wish that the magical philosophies were explored in greater detail – as a standalone, there’s less room for in-depth examinations of magical lore, and that’s one of my favourite parts of fantasy novels – but what’s revealed works well.
The other major strength is Naomi Novik’s writing – she absolutely nails the fairytale style and gorgeously paints a picture of the Dark Wood and the mysterious Dragon in his tower.
There are minor flaws – the initial pacing is slow and almost drags, and Kesia, Agnieszka’s best friend, is left as a two-dimensional character when she could have been so much more – but, while these detract a little, they still leave a vastly enjoyable novel packed with many positives.
Overall, ‘Uprooted’ is an excellent addition to the fairytale genre, set in a part of the world less often seen in Western fantasy novels. Recommended to fans of fairytales, strong heroines, and beautiful prose.
Published by Pan Macmillan
Hardback: May 21st 2015