~ 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 it’s shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold 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.
While I didn’t like this quite as much as Naomi Novik’s groundbreaking Temeraire series, it was still an enjoyable, if slightly predictable fantasy. 17-year-old Agnieszka lives in a small village in a country that is similar to 16th century Poland. It’s a beautiful and picturesque setting except for the deadly Wood which literally comes alive and kills people in extremely gruesome ways. The story is told in the first person by Agnieszka, and relates her adventures, as she’s surprisingly chosen by Sarkan (the Dragon). Unbeknownst to the villagers, Sarkan chooses his young women, not for their looks but for the magic he senses in them. Agnieszka isn’t even aware she possesses any, until Sarkan begins training her. The early part of their relationship reminded me of Henry Higgins and Eliza Dolittle’s in My Fair Lady. Sarkan’s magic is more classic and sophisticated, while Agnieszka is gifted with “hedge-witch” magic, which is more steeped in nature. While initially scornful of Agnieszka’s gifts, she soon impresses him with the strength of her magic, and before long they are working together to save the kingdom from the encroaching Wood. I loved the way Novik brings her characters to life. Agnieszka is no stereotypical beauty. She’s admittedly clumsy, and cannot for the life of her keep her clothes clean. While she’s terrified of Sarkan in the beginning, it’s amusing to watch her rebellious actions, and the effect they have on him. When Kasia is taken by the Wood, Agnieszka moves heaven and earth to rescue her friend. Sarkan is arrogant, rude, and disagreeable, and the early scenes depicting the growing relationship between him and Agnieszka are at times hysterical. It’s clear that he’s never met anyone quite like her. Once they begin working together though, they make a formidable team, and it is only through their efforts that the kingdom is saved. About 3/4 of the way through, they become romantically involved, and I don’t think that it really added anything to the story. I don’t know if it’s me, but I’ve been finding this frequently in books lately. I found this relationship to be all the more annoying because I’m a little tired of young girls falling for centuries older men in fantasy. I honestly felt things would have been fine without any romantic entanglements. The story has plenty of action which kept me pretty much glued to the pages. My only disappointment was with the ending, which while ultimately satisfying, didn’t quite live up to the excitement of the rest of the story. Uprooted has been described as YA by some, but I’d feel more comfortable recommending this to adults, or NAs due to the graphic violence. It’s hard to tell if this is a stand-alone, or the first book in a new series, but I’d be interested in revisiting this new world Naomi Novik has created.