Uprooted – Naomi Novik – Pan Macmillan – Published 12 May 2016 (first pub 2015)
Agnieszka loves her village, set in a peaceful valley. But the nearby enchanted forest casts a shadow over her home. Many have been lost to the Wood and none return unchanged. The villagers depend on an ageless wizard, the Dragon, to protect them from the forest’s dark magic. However, his help comes at a terrible price. A young woman must serve him for ten years, leaving all she values behind.
Agnieszka fears her dearest friend Kasia will be picked at the next choosing, for she is everything Agnieszka is not – beautiful, graceful and brave. Yet when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he takes.
Loosely based around a Beauty and the Beast retelling, Uprooted is gloriously imagined, with intricate storytelling and a world where witches and wizards must fight against the ever encroaching and corruptive powers of the Woods.
Every ten years The Dragon, the lord who watches over the villages surrounded by the Woods, takes a 16-year-old girl to his tower. Agnieszka is the right age, but she and everyone in her village know that Kasia is the far more likely choice. Until, shockingly, it is Agnieszka who is chosen. Messy and disorganised, Agnieszka is surprised to learn that she was not chosen to be a mate nor housekeeper, but because of her hidden skills as a witch. But she doesn’t make the best pupil, and the Dragon despaires of ever teaching her enough, especially when the Woods becomes more bold in its approach and attack.
I loved Agnieszka as a protagonist. She is an unlikely hero – messy, unorganised, unprepared and sometimes totally reluctant. The Dragon finds her hard to teach and her powers unstable. She’s no one special but in the most special of ways, because what makes her the hero is her gift for seeing things differently, for being different.
Uprooted is a delightful fantasy and fairytale retelling. It is slow-paced in parts. The begging is humorous and slowly introduces readers to Agnieszka, her world and the circumstances around the Dragon claiming a girl. Like Agnieszka, the reader has a lot to learn about magic and how it works in her world. While the middle section of the book has lots of action and endless blood-bath battles, the end of the book is actually quite soft, unexpected and gentle. While you can see the elements of Beauty and the Beast (the Dragon—which is just a name, by the way, no actual dragon in this book—as the beast taking a young girl, the library references, etc), it is wholly unique and differs immensely from what you expect.
Uprooted is a deliciously dark, and beautifully crafted fantasy novel, and a great addition to the many other Beauty and the Beast retellings.
Category: Adult fiction
Themes: Friendship, wizards and witches, magic, nature, royalty, romance.
Reading age guide: Ages 16 and up.
Advisory: Sex scene with details, sexual references, attempted rape. Violence – strong violence, descriptions of death, injury, illness, corruption, corpses, ill-treatment of corpses, mass death in violence battles. Magic violence.
Published: 12 May 2016 by Pan Macmillan (first published 2015)
Format: Paperback, hardcover, ebook, audiobook. 435 pages.