Book Title/Author: Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Publisher/Year: Published May 19th 2015 by Del Rey
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Fairytale retelling
“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.” (Goodreads)
This is a fun, fast-paced fantasy read with a strong female friendship and features a “just is” magic system. If that quick explanation doesn’t get your blood boiling, then you may be on the Likers side of the Uprooted. I enjoyed this book and found it to be the perfect read while on vacation, but I do see why some people dislike Uprooted.
My favourite aspect of the book was the world-building and descriptions around the dark, magical woods at the edge of a village (the Wood). It was a forest full of corruption and all of the village and neighbouring villages feared the Wood. I loved all the descriptions of the Wood, from the little eerie hints to its attacks on people. Here is a taste:
No one went into the Wood and came out again, at least not whole and themselves. Sometimes they came out blind and screaming, sometimes they came out twisted and so misshapen they couldn’t be recognized; and worst of all sometimes they came out with their own faces but murder behind them, something gone dreadfully wrong within.
What I didn’t like — and the thing that is preventing my from giving the book 4 stars — is how this book desensitized sexual abuse and shifted blame onto the victim. I think that this is important to mention because this is something that makes-or-breaks picking up a book for some people, normally I am one of them. And it is important to say to YA readers that this type of behaviour is not OK or romantic. The main romance and other encounters Agnieszka with male characters involve verbal and physical abuses and romanticizes them or makes Agnieszka think:
- that she leads them on
- that she should have done something that she was not comfortable with because someone of higher social standing told her to
- that she was wrong to defend herself and she was made to feel sorry
The Dragon was not a likable character, though I’ll admit that I started warm to him a by the end, but only a little bit. I still have a hard time putting him in my good books because he treats Agnieszka really poorly and I imagined a really large age difference between the two of them, which made me feel icky. Fortunately, the love interest is not the primary relationship in the book; the friendship between two teenage girls is — and this relationship is written well.
Because there seems to be a big divide between those that like Uprooted and those that don’t, I have put together a check-list & helpful (spolier free) details to help you decide if this book is good for you:
- Detailed explanations about the dark, magical woods at the edge of a village
- Strong female friendship is the primary relationship focus, the love interest is secondary
- A magic system that doesn’t have any concrete rules but are based on feelings. The magic works differently for each witch/wizard and can be a bit whimsical.
- Fast-paced, roller-coaster ride of problems – the problem is solved in 2-3 chapters after being introduced, then is replaced by an even bigger problem!
- If you’re in the mood for a fairytale-like story. Some have explained this book as a Beauty & The Beast retelling. I did not think this was the case. The only premise copied from Beauty & The Beast is: girl begrudgingly stays with grumpy, misunderstood, older male character and a love interest develops.
- The Dragon (The Beast) is a jerk of a character, although I started to warm up to him towards the end.
- Desensitizing sexual abuse and shifting blame onto the victim.
“truth didn’t mean anything without someone to share it with; you could shout truth into the air forever, and spend your life doing it, if someone didn’t come and listen.”
“Those the walkers carried into the Wood were less lucky. We didn’t know what happened to them, but they came back out sometimes, corrupted in the worst way: smiling and cheerful, unharmed. They seemed almost themselves to anyone who didn’t know them well, and you might spend half a day talking with one of them and never realize anything was wrong, until you found yourself taking up a knife and cutting off your own hand, putting out your own eyes, your own tongue, while they kept talking all the while, smiling, horrible. And then they would take the knife and go inside your house, to your children, while you lay outside blind and choking and helpless even to scream. If someone we loved was taken by the walkers, the only thing we knew to hope for them was death, and it could only be a hope.”
“And not only the rose: vines were climbing up the bookshelves in every direction, twining themselves around ancient tomes and reaching out the window; the tall slender columns that made the arch of the doorway were lost among rising birches, spreading out long finger-branches; moss and violets were springing up across the floor, delicate ferns unfurling. Flowers were blooming everywhere: flowers I had never seen, strange blooms dangling and others with sharp points, brilliantly colored, and the room was thick with their fragrance, with the smell of crushed leaves and pungent herbs. I looked around myself alight with wonder, my magic still flowing easily.”