Fantasy Book Review
Novik wrote an interesting novel that puts nature in the villain seat. My previous experience with Novik is with her Temeraire series which is a fascinating concept of dragons playing the role of transportation and vessels in an alternate reality that drew strong parallels to the British navy in and around the Napoleonic Wars. It was like Horatio Hornblower with scales and flamethrowers. While the concept was great, I wasn’t a huge fan of the writing. I remember long run-on sentences with over-the-top Dickensian attention to description and detail that just got boring. I’m happy to say, in Uprooted, she got way better at her craft.
Novik introduces us to Agnieszka in the first chapter. She is a rough and tumble girl who’s only talent seems to be getting filthy. They live in a rural little hamlet that is at the base of the Wood and the Dragon’s tower. The Dragon in this novel is a wizard by the name of Sarkan and he takes a girl from this little village as tribute once every ten years or so. Agnieszka is this year’s tribute.
Our protagonist quickly finds out that she is a witch, much to the surprise of our wizard, who grudgingly accepts the role of teacher and mentor. The Dragon’s style in magic is as fastidious and pretentious as the man himself and it does not blend well with the dirty and free nature of young Agnieszka and they clash at almost every turn. Finally, our heroine finds a text from an old hedge witch that teaches magic in free form that resonates far better with her and she starts to find her power. The magic style drew some neat parallels to music. The Dragon’s style is powerful but rigid, much like a classically taught pianist where Agnieszka’s is very free and wild more jazz and blues requiring heavy doses of improvisation. When they finally figure out how to tie the two styles together, they create a symphony of wonder that is truly fun to read.
While our two main characters do get embroiled in the politics of the land, the villain and the cause of all the strife is the Wood that stands at their doorstep. The Wood is corruption. It is populated with creatures that have been morphed into dangerous, tainted killers. Worse, the Wood has the power to corrupt humans that stray too far within. When these people are taken, they come back with an abundance of charm but nothing but evil and death in their hearts. It reminded me of getting buried in the Pet Sematary: “First I played with Judd, then mommy came and I played with mommy. We play daddy, we had awful good time. Now I want to play with you…” Yeah, don’t go into the Wood.
Our characters find that together their powers can fight the corruption of the Wood. They are the first to be able to do so in many years. The characters are very believable and you find yourself rooting for them throughout. The world Novik creates is a throwback to the darkness of the old Grimm fairy tales but with much more depth. She assumes a maturity in her readers that is much appreciated. It’s a great book.