(Author: Naomi Novik) + (Year: 2015) + (Goodreads)
*** Mild spoilers ***
I’m soooo happy that this was my first book of the year. As ironic as it is, by reading Uprooted, I went back to my own roots of YA fantasy novels and it was so refreshing and felt so good. In other words, I like diversifying the literature genres I read, but a splash of magic makes everything just… better.
I assume many of you have already heard of Uprooted, or even read it, as it was one of the most talked about fantasy books of 2015/2016, but for those who haven’t I’d like to make a short recap, as to what this book is and what it represents.
Uprooted is the story of a small valley in the kingdom of Polnya, which for centuries has been tormented by an enchanted forest full of evil and corruption. To help the villagers of the valley fight the Wood, a wizard called the Dragon lives in a tower in the valley, and every 10 years takes one girl to serve him in the tower. The girl who gets chosen for the next 10 years, a wild, messy and stubborn creature called Agnieszka, finds out that there is so much more to the corruption of the Wood, and to the mysterious and scary Dragon, himself.
If you are Polish, or know anything about Poland, you’ve already seen something familiar in the names above – Agnieszka and Polnya; as well as Rosya, Marek, Kasia and almost every other character or geographical location from this book. Uprooted is based on Polish culture and old Polish stories, as well as loosely on the common Slavic heritage, such as the stories of Baba Jaga/Yaga, with whom my own (Bulgarian) mother was scaring me when I was little. The reason for these legends and cultural elements to find their place in this book is that Naomi Novik’s mother is Polish. However, as a fellow Slav, I felt a closeness to the stories from the book, the pastoral (or not so much) pictures of quiet (or not so much) remote villages, legends of dragons and witches, and kingdoms and wars.
Another thing that I really loved about this book was the general creepiness of it. At the very beginning, when the sides and villains were not clear, it was easy to be confused by where the real evil lies. But most of all, it was the fact that it could, at any moment, corrupt any given character, like a virus which spreads and everyone knows it’s there, but can’t stop it, that made me feel anxious and almost disturbed.
While I didn’t necessarily hate any character in the book, Agnieszka was one of those that I groaned at the most. Everything about her, from the way characters, and even she herself, described her, to the capacity she had of doing amazing things – at some point, it just stopped adding up. At the beginning all the characters expressed time and again that she was not very beautiful (if the opposite), and then somewhere at the middle everyone was thought to be in love with her for her looks, and not for her talent or personality. She was the youngest to be added to the list of wizards and witches, but WHY? What made her more different and talented than the rest?
“But I had no room in my head for bees, or roses, or spying; no room for anything but magic, the raw torrent of it and his hand my only rock, except he was being tumbled right along with me.”
As for the Dragon, I was curious and excited to read more, however, I didn’t find it fully convincing and satisfactory. Not much was said about him ultimately, and the only real stories of his past seemed to be there only to give him a past, and not because they were essential to the story. So for me, many questions remained. Most of all, why did he take only girls? Once you’ve read the book, you’d probably have an easier time understanding what I mean. But honestly…
I loved the story of the Wood, though. It was not as convoluted as another author might have made it, but in simplicity I found a comfort. It was clear but scary in how simple it was. Without going into serious spoilers, I could not explain in detail what I really liked about it, but there were some characters that I found very unsettling and at the same time, very logical on a completely human level.
Despite my questions, and especially the ending, which was more open than I hoped, I’m more than very glad that I read Uprooted, and I can completely, hands down, join the hype about it.