Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

I think I have to blame Twilight for making me hesitate before picking up this book. Ever since I went through that phase, I’ve had a terrible habit of avoiding books written in first person, regardless of how interesting the premise might be or how many people have recommended it. It actually took a friend buying this book for my birthday, and absolutely raving about it, for Uprooted to make its way onto my bookshelf.

(I’m working on it, I promise.)

But I am very glad she did, because I devoured this book within a day of opening the cover and I enjoyed just about every word. With some hints of influence from Beauty and the Beast, Novik combines the wonder of magic with the mysticism of ancient stories and creates an incredible adventure with the stellar twists and rich atmospheres of old fairy tales. The kind Disney doesn’t like to tell us.

The reader is fully immersed in the story from page one, learning about the quiet, little village where our protagonist lives and the absolute, visceral horror that is the Wood, looming just at their borders. Always a constant threat, always a danger lurking in the shadows.

I never thought I could be so terrified of a forest. From the first mention of the Wood, we are made to understand just how horrible and treacherous and sadistic this force of nature is, as it schemes and plots against the human kingdoms. No one and nothing is safe from its reach. The reader is never allowed to feel completely safe, and this constant sense of danger – of a massive, ancient, unknowable force that is constantly and relentlessly attempting to kill everyone – kept me rooted in the story.

Part of the reason the Wood is so terrifying is that it threatens the wonderful world Novik has created. Uprooted is absolutely packed with imaginative and detailed worldbuilding. The little village Agnieszka calls home feels warm and inviting, from its incredible food to the devoted community who only want to keep each other safe. There is the real sense of it as a place where the people care and depend on one another to survive day-to-day life as well as the terror at their doorsteps. You care about these people, almost as much as Agnieszka, and the reader can feel her devotion to her friends and family so intensely as it drives her forward against truly terrifying forces.

Agnieszka is a fantastic protagonist. She has a wonderful human quality to her. I could understand and relate to her struggles so easily, even in the most fantastical of circumstances. She is a character defined by her love for others, and that love gives her strength and courage to do things she otherwise would never have believed herself capable of.

She is also an ideal choice for the reader’s perspective. We learn about the mysterious wizard, a figure known only as the Dragon in her village, through her interactions with him. The system of magic – something that feels so simple and organic in nature that it almost feels real – is taught to the reader through Agnieszka as she learns to control a power she never even knew she possessed. The terror of the Wood, the far-removed arrogance of the royal court, even the politics between the human kingdoms are understood through Agnieszka’s perspective: a girl from a small village facing something so much larger than anything she had ever experienced.

If I had to give any criticism, it would be about the ending. I won’t include any spoilers here, but I found that the build up was substantially more interesting than the eventual payoff, and I found it didn’t quite measure up to the promise that was made in the chapters leading up to the finale. And some of what I enjoyed at the beginning of the story didn’t quite carry through to the very end.

Would I still recommend this book? Absolutely. It is so incredibly difficult to satisfy every reader’s expectations, and while I personally was a little – teeny tiny itsy bitsy – bit unsatisfied by some part of the end, that does not in any way mean that it does not still hold up as a fantastic read. I would absolutely recommend this book to others, and I’ll definitely be reading it again soon!

Rating: 4.5/5
Final Thoughts: A brilliant and original story with incredible magic and a fantastic story. I absolutely recommend this book to just about everyone!

On to the next chapter!

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