Part Beauty and the Beast, part Over the Garden Wall, part Jane Eyre, part The Sorcerer’s Apprentice…
…and I haven’t been so exhausted after reading a book in a long time.
Every ten years, a sorcerer known only as the Dragon chooses one seventeen year old girl from the surrounding villages to serve him in his tower. In exchange, he protects the villages from the malice and magic of the nearby Wood, a forest infested with corruption and dark creatures. But the girls never return from the Dragon’s tower the same.
Living in a small village near the dangerous and magical Wood, Agnieszka is seventeen when the Dragon will select a new servant. But she isn’t afraid, at least, not for herself.
Rather, she fears for her best friend, Kasia, who is beautiful and skilled. Groomed to be the next girl taken, Kasia is everything the Dragon looks for. But on the day of the choosing, Kasia is not picked, but Agnieszka.
Living in the Dragon’s tower, Agnieszka will be exposed to magic, truth, and the true corruption of the
Holy crap, this book.
(Whether you read the abive statement with a positive or negative tone is up for debate, but you’ll see.)
I didn’t know how much I wanted a sort of dark fairy tale/fantasy until now. Novik’s world building is largely immersive, depicting the Wood and it’s evils perfectly. The concept of the Wood is my favourite part of the book. It’s got its own personality, it’s own vindictive agenda.
Agnieszka is also a fun protagonist. Is she a little bit on the side of cliche, klutzy, manic-pixie-village-girl? Yes, she is. But I appreciate that Novik made a strong female lead who was neither physically or even magically strong. Kasia is also a strong female character, though Novik does not delve into her story as much as I would have liked.
The story we are given is well constructed in terms of plot. The evil of the Wood is twisted, and once the problems that arise are solved, they instantly become problems again. There are genuine moments when you feel like the Wood is going to win, and it goes entirely to how candid Novik is in her writing. Blood, guts, gore, death—nothing is censored and I find that rather refreshing in a fairytale like set up.
The book does have some flaws. The Dragon’s characterization is a huge problem for me. A lot of the humanity in his character is only seen through Agnieszka’s eyes, and more than once I wanted his point of view. He’s too much like a brick: cold, hard, and unfeeling.
The odd thing is that because of this, the romance should feel incredibly forced—but it miraculously doesn’t. The book contains a remarkable amount of romantic (and dare I say, sexual) tension between the romantic leads, and it was surprisingly satisfying when they finally got together. And props to Novik for making a teen fantasy where the romance wasn’t the driving point.
Another issue was that the magic system was a little wishy-washy. (Brandon Sanderson has officially spoiled me for magic systems.) I understood Jaga’s unconventional style much more than the Dragon’s methodical one, which shouldn’t be happening.
But my biggest problem with the novel was that it was far too dense. Plot was just packed into these pages, leaving little room for the reader to breathe. And that’s not to say the plot was awful—it’s quite brilliant actually. But there was way too much in too few pages. Even simply dividing the novel into 3 parts within one tome would have sufficed.
In short, I need more of Uprooted. I feel that if the novel were split into (dare I say) a trilogy with (dare I say again) filler scenes to allow for better pacing and character development—possibly with multiple points of view. I definitely feel that Kasia, the Dragon, and Marek deserved their own points of view. More pages means better character development, more character interaction, and better building of the magic system. What I was given though (and it’s a lot) I thoroughly enjoyed.
Recommendation: Read. While quite dense, the story of Uprooted is worth the read. The magic and evil of the Wood make for excellent storytelling that fans of dark fantasy and fairy tales would enjoy.