Writer Naomi Novik took some time off from writing her nearly-complete and well-known Temeraire series to write her first ever adult fairy tale. She sticks to the realm of fantasy and, though some readers may expect a dragon to make an appearance, the story contains no such creature, only a powerful wizard called the Dragon. With many recognizable elements one would always find in fantasy books, an intriguing storyline, and surprisingly likeable characters, Uprooted is a wonderful adult fairy tale that will keep readers reading until the very end.
The Wood is a large forest that has been corrupted by evil and is growing stronger with every passing year, spreading out and taking over nearby cities and villages. A small village where young Agnieszka lives is right on the border of the Wood, but the Wood is kept at bay by a powerful wizard known only as the Dragon. From Agnieszka’s village, the Dragon takes a young woman from the village to serve him and then, after ten years, he lets her go and chooses a new young woman to serve him. The year has come for the Dragon to choose a young maiden and Agnieszka is afraid that her best friend, the beautiful and graceful Kasia, will be chosen. How wrong she is when the Dragon, reluctantly, chooses her.
The first thing to catch many readers’ attention about this story is the name of the main heroine: Agnieszka. It is an unusual name, but in the acknowledgments at the end of her book, Novik tells the readers that this name comes from a Polish fairy tale that her mother read to her constantly as a child called Agnieszka Skrawek Neiba (Agnieszka “Piece of the Sky”), by Natalia Galczynska (Novik 437). Novik even used the idea of the Wood from Agnieszka Skrawek Neiba, but added more fantasy elements to it, giving her story a slight resemblance to the well-known musical Into the Woods, but without the familiar fairy tales everyone knows. Going back to Agnieszka, she is an incredibly likeable main character due to the fact that she is not perfect. She is incredibly stubborn, strong willed, and klutzy, traits many women and even men have at least one of.
Then there is the Dragon who acts like a jerk, but is also a likeable character due to the fact that though he is not a dragon, he acts like one. He is incredibly handsome as dragons are beautiful, conceded, prefers to be alone, and takes a liking to young maidens. What is also fascinating about the Dragon is the fact that his character has no development throughout the book. Sure, he has his moments where he is sentimental with Agnieszka, but his character does not make any drastic changes. Normally the lack of character development in one of the main characters would make the character boring, but Novik writes him in such a way that makes the audience intrigued by the way he behaves, hating him and liking him at the same time. A prime example of this love/ hate feeling towards him is the reason he chooses Agnieszka: he only picks her because she has magical abilities that would aid him in fending off the Wood, but detests how klutzy and dirty she is. However, the relationship between Agnieszka and the Dragon will have audience members rooting for them to be together throughout the entire book for the two of them together are a lot like Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice or Carrie and Mr. Big from Sex and the City: so stubborn, knowing they belong together, yet both too strong-willed to admit it to the other.
Novik’s story telling is on par, as always. Her writing style is very fluid and she tells an intriguing story that will keep the reader’s attention; however, like in her Temeraire series, she has a tendency to drift and ramble during certain parts of Uprooted. The beginning, for example, could have been shortened a bit between the first page and when Agnieszka finally sees the Dragon for the first time, but these bits of details are also considered “filler” content and are, unfortunately, needed to complete stories. They are not fun for readers to read nor are they fun for the writers to write, but these “fillers” are necessary to make a story complete. Aside from these “fillers,” the world Novik created for Uprooted is wonderfully fantastical and is easy for readers to picture in their minds. What is most fascinating to read about in Novik’s world are the creatures that live in the Wood. The Wood is so dark and so corrupt that it corrupts anything and anyone that steps foot into it. People, animals, plants, trees, even the water in the Wood are all affected in dark and mysterious ways and readers will want to understand the reasoning behind this corruption.
Uprooted is a difficult story to describe without giving away important facts and details that would spoil parts of the story for readers who have not yet picked up the book. In a nut shell, Uprooted is a book that fantasy lovers will not want to put down. The main characters are likeable, the story itself is fascinating and brimming with the elements of fairy tales of yore, and though certain parts in the beginning and middle can be slow, other parts are fast paced and action packed, keeping readers turning the pages to find out what happens next. Readers will be curious as to the secret and mystery behind the Wood’s corruption and will be rooting for Agnieszka and the Dragon to be together. Some reviewers have compared this story to Beauty and the Beast and there is a likeness there, but anyone who is a fan of Naomi Novik or who loves a fun adult fairy tale will enjoy Uprooted: a fun read that will whisk readers away to a fictional world brimming with fantasy.
Originally published at www.examiner.com on December 4, 2015.