“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”
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.
It’s weird, considering how many books there are based off or inspired by fairytales, how few books there are that actually feel like fairytales. This is one of them. The ambiance is enchanting. While the fact that it was set in a Poland-inspired world (which is certainly something I’ve never seen before!) was certainly something I had never seen before, I think the reason Naomi Novik succeeds so much with the setting is by really understanding what home feels like while still managing to mix that with the strange and otherworldly.
The characters were impressive, as well. Agnieszka was introduced with a description that anyone who’s read a fair amount of YA will undoubtedly see as a Portent of Doom: she is too skinny, brown-haired, and clumsy. (And I am aware Uprooted is not YA, FYI.) However, Naomi Novik quickly goes beyond that, giving Agnieszka a strong personality.She’s stubborn and opinionated, to the point where she can be a little to obstinate and hard-headed, but all that just made her feel real. Even her “clumsiness” worked with that. I’m pretty sure that half of it is just her semi-subconsciously delighting in being contrary in a situation where everyone expects her to be pretty and put-together.
I was a little more mixed-bag on her relationship with the Dragon. If you know me, you know that I love hate-to-love and belligerent sexual tension. I definitely think that it got off to a strong start – lots of banter and arguments! – but the transition from simply annoying each other to kissing came too quickly. Even if Naomi Novik is good at writing heat, if you know what I mean, I would really have liked more of a slow burn.
To be fair, there is so much going on in this book. That’s kind of a good thing, because I raced through it in a day and there was always something new happening. It’s also really nice to see a stand-alone fantasy! But also would be interested to see what this story would be like as a duology. I think the strong fairytale atmosphere and multiple locations could lend themselves well to a more leisurely pace.
Also we’d get that delicious slow burn I was looking for.
All in all, this book has definitely made me want to read more Naomi Novik. The atmosphere and the strong characterization of the main character really made Uprooted stand out for me. It’s definitely the best Beauty and the Beast retelling I’ve read. (Although it wasn’t until reading other reviews that I realized it was Beauty and the Beast. Whoops.)