To be honest, my lovelies, I don’t know what made me pick this book up, but whatever it was, I’m thankful for it!
I was browsing NPR’s 2015 Book Concierge’s best books of the year because I like to see what I’ve read (usually not much from that list) and what I want to read (usually a lot). But this year’s contestants weren’t really drawing my eye until I got to Uprooted by Naomi Novik. It was classified under the “love stories” heading, which is totally my ideal, and the “science fiction and fantasy” heading, about which I can also totally geek out. So I bought it as my first choice from the list. I mean, witches, wizards, a dark wood, and a village girl to the rescue? Sign me up, please!
So here’s the break down: A village, which is under the threat of the dark Wood, pays for the Dragon’s protection by giving him a seventeen-year-old village girl to take to his tower. The girl comes back 1o years later unhurt, with her pockets full of a large dowry and dreams of the capital.
Of course, it’s not really that simple. The village sits near the Wood, and the villagers, without their knowing it, are all linked to the Wood and its surrounding area, which is why the Dragon, who is not really a dragon but a wizard who is not connected to the Wood by birth, needs a girl rooted to the area to keep the Wood at bay. He has them cook and clean, using them as servants, until the year of Agnieszka.
When he chooses Agnieszka, everyone is astounded, especially Agnieszka, because her best friend Kasia is a beauty and was sure to be chosen by the Dragon. But plain, messy, mud-splattered Agnieszka is the one who has a clear silver thread of magic.
When the Dragon trains her in magic, he’s initially frustrated because of both her lack of desire to be trained and her general incompetence in magic. But when her village falls under an attack from the Wood, Agnieszka realizes that she needs the magic to help combat the Wood’s evils.
Then, drawn to a book of magic when the Dragon is struck with corruption from the village attacks, she finds a book that is labeled useless by the Dragon. It’s not useless to Agnieszka, who immediately recognizes the organic and musical quality of the spells that so baffled the great Dragon. Turns out, Agnieszka just has a different form of magic than the structured and somewhat pedantic, but eminently powerful, Dragon. Combining their opposing styles of magic enables them to create a power that is needed when the arrogant Prince Marek decides it’s time to traverse the Wood and rescue his mother, the queen, who has been locked in the Wood for twenty years.
And the Wood: So dark, so scary, so devilish, so determined, so strategic, and so full of hate. It often seems five steps ahead of our newly minted witch, Agnieszka, and the Dragon. And it doesn’t help their cause that Agnieszka has a tendency to fall headlong into trouble without always connecting all the dots the way the Dragon does. (But to be fair, she is seventeen, while he’s over a century old.) Plus, she has to contend with the royal players, including the hasty and rash prince and his wizard sidekick, the Falcon.
The Wood is obviously an allegory for the destruction of the earth, a warning that our abuse of the natural resources from our planet will hurt us in the end and strike at humanity with the same force as the Wood does to everyone it encounters.
And, you know, lovely readers, that romance brews between Agnieszka and the Dragon, even though it is not as overt as many young adult and romance novels are. It’s subtle, and we feel how they are drawn not just to each other’s power, but also what the other brings out in their character. They need each other as sounding boards, as well as to face down the loneliness that Novik points out exists in outliving those about whom they care and love, a circumstance that the Wood understands as well.
Obviously, my dears, I’m pretty pleased with my first selection off of NPR’s 2015 Best Books list, and if you give Uprooted a chance, I think you will be, too.
Until next time, my fictional readers! Happy fantasy reading!