Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Publisher/Year: Del Ray - May 2015
This week is all about fairy tales here at Intellectual Recreation.
I read quite a few glowing reviews of Naomi Novik's Uprooted. Angie at Angieville, for instance, rarely steers me wrong, so I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. I got in line over at the library, and pretty soon I was downloading the digital audiobook. (I love Overdrive.)
Agnieszka loves her quiet village, but it is threatened by the corrupted Wood on the border. The people of her valley rely on the wizard known as the Dragon to protect them from the malevolent Wood. In payment, the Dragon selects a village girl to take to his tower every ten years. Agnieszka never thought he would pick her.
Uprooted is a gorgeous original fairy tale that contains many common fairy tale motifs. I'm impressed with how Novik is able to make the story feel so familiar and yet utterly new at the same time. The setting, for instance, is very Russian or Slavic in feel. Names, like Agnieszka and Kasia are just one of the tip offs to this inspiration. (It didn't hurt that the reader of the audiobook has a Russian accent, either.) A threatening, wild, dangerous forest is certainly a familiar element in fairy tales, and Novik creates a Woods that is worthy of the capital W and really is a character in its own right. I love how moody and evocative the forays into the Wood's domain are. Plus, the Woods are scary. It becomes a villain on par with any fairy tale villain, and yet, it's both scarier due to its intangibility and more easily disregarded because they are just trees, after all.
Here are some of the other connections I noticed:
Beauty and Uprooted: I've seen lots of comparisons between Robin Mckinley's work and Uprooted. I've also seen Uprooted described as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. It's a very loose retelling, but the wizard is known as the Dragon, after all. Also, the rose!
Howl's Moving Castle and Uprooted: Both books feature a notoriously reclusive and cantankerous wizard in a secluded castle/ tower.
Crimson Bound and Uprooted: Ever encroaching, malevolent, terrifying woods and a main character who is determine to beat them back.
The Paper Magician and Uprooted: A reluctant magician in training falls in love with her teacher.
Enchantment and Uprooted: Both books have ties to Slavic fairy tales. Baba Yaga is a presence in each.
The False Princess and Uprooted: A member of the royal family has been missing for over a decade. When she is found the plot thickens.
For me, the setting really made the story, but I also loved the characters. Agnieszka just does not take no for an answer. She's headstrong and feisty and willing to try new things. She's a breath of fresh air among all the stodgy ancient wizards. I also liked that her magic was different than the other wizards, less stiff and scholarly and more tied to intuition and an almost forgotten ancient tradition. I liked the Dragon too. He's frightening and misunderstood. Honestly, I wish there were more a him in the story. Although I appreciated how Agnieszka's time in the capital city helped her come into her own, I missed the Dragon. The magic those two can do together is truly astounding.
The book's finale really took my breath away. The climax and conclusion brings story full circle and yet was also so unexpected.