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, ambitious wizard known only as the Dragon to keep the Wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost 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 no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.
Genre: YA Fiction
Publisher: PAN Macmillan
I love fairy tales. I love the timeless magic that seems to flow through every word, right from the fateful ‘Once upon a time’. I love the originals, with their gruesome, tragic endings, and the way the old words sound when they’re read aloud. I love the Disney remakes, and the dumbed-down, less explicit versions for children that focus on the beauty of magic rather than the darkness behind it. But I suppose my greatest downfall is that, above all else, I am addicted to modern retellings of the classics.
I’m serious. I’ll see a new novel in the bookstore with anything resembling a tower or a dragon on it and I’ll probably buy it without even looking at the blurb. And more often than not, it turns out to be yet another Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty or Snow White retelling that’s about as original and unique as a cheap souvenir from a gift shop in Disney World. (Cinder by Marissa Meyer is one of the few exceptions.)
But then there’s Uprooted.
Nothing I’ve ever read before could’ve prepared me for the magic that seemed to seep out of Uprooted every time I opened it. It would take no more than a couple of sentences to entirely sweep me out of my own world into Agnieszka’s small village – at times I could feel the threatening corruption of the Wood, or the cold grasp of the Dragon on my arms. Novik’s story in not merely about magic, it fashions a magic of its own that grows through your mind like climbing green vines.
I think what makes Agnieszka’s story so refreshing is that it isn’t based on any one of the typical (almost stereotypical) fairy tales. In fact, it isn’t based on a Western story at all. Novik weaves in characters and symbols from the Polish tales her mother told her as a child, but they never take center stage in the novel – Agnieszka’s story is entirely unique, which is startling because it seems so ancient and timeless in its dark, detailed magic and monsters.
Then there are the characters. Gone are the heroic, spotless princes, the beautiful young maidens and the all-knowing wizards who typically steal the spotlight in all tales, both old and new. I think that’s awesome. I think it’s really, really wonderful that Novik’s protagonist is covered in dirt and dust half the time, and that her love interest isn’t typically handsome. I love that the princes shatter the stereotype of heroic valiance, and are rather portrayed as cruel, self-serving and ultimately quite stupid. Oh, and back to Agnieszka: I think it’s epic that she doesn’t rely on beauty or wit or grace to save herself. She manages to remain a smart village girl, in appearance and otherwise, throughout the novel, and she still kicks ass. That’s the type of message I like to see in fairy tales – it doesn’t always have to be the perfect, beautiful village girl that becomes the heroine of the story.
There’s still so much more I’d love to praise about Uprooted, but I think you get the picture. It’s a stunning novel, and wildly underrated at that. It’ll probably ruin your life for the few days you spend with your nose stuck in its pages, but it’s totally worth it.
Rating: 5/5 stars
Recommended to: Fans of Cinder, Mercy, Entwined, The Jewel, and even The Mortal Instruments and Harry Potter.
The Last Word
But even if you don’t like fairy tales look at this stunning cover! (It even matches my scarf #winning.)