Uprooted - Naomi Novik

Uprooted - Naomi Novic

This book was so brilliantly, beautifully perfect that this review is probably just going to be flailing. Sorry.


Uprooted is the story of Agniezka, a girl from a little village in a little valley of Polnya. The village's lord is a man - a wizard - known as the Dragon; every ten years he takes a girl from the valley to live with him in his tower. No-one really knows what happens there, but when the ten years are up the girls leave the valley never to return. Being chosen is treated like a death sentence; the girls' families know they'll never see their daughters again. Agniezka expects her best friend Kasia, the prettiest and most confident girl in the valley, to be chosen; when she's taken instead, she gets drawn into a world of strange magic and even stranger politics, which has at its heart the ever-creeping threat of the Wood at the end of the valley.


There are so, so many wonderful things about Uprooted, first and foremost of which is Novik's skill at writing relationships. As in her Temeraire series, all of Uprooted's characters are bound into tight webs of community: webs made of politics, or friendship, or a mutual need for aid. Agniezka's relationship with her best friend Kasia is a subtle, layered thing, made of mutual jealousy as well as mutual respect, and, the book implies, it's those very layers that give the friendship its strength. Each understands the other; each makes allowances for the other. And her romantic relationship with the Dragon is wonderful, too: it is never allowed to get in the way of the story or to interfere with either of their lives - Agniezka spends precisely no time pining over him - yet despite, or because, of this it feels real and deep-seated and satisfying. And it's great that it's never labelled, as love or lust or whatever: it is what it is. It's allowed to develop, to evolve, according to its own pressures.


Then there's the story itself: perfectly paced and full of the dark shivering flavours of the best kind of fairytale. What I love is that although the story is rooted in fairytale, although the characters live in a world in which their fairytales were once true (and I'm not talking the Disney versions, either - these are Eastern European tales, half-recognisable as kin to English ones), the book continually makes it clear that the truth was never as simple, as easy, as the tales would have it. This branches out beautifully in a frankly heart-wrenching conclusion: just as the book begins to wander into fairytale simplicity, Novik complicates it, layers it, adds levels of sadness and beauty. Nothing is as simple as it seems.


Uprooted has been getting a fair amount of attention recently, and it more than deserves it. It is a beautiful book (and I don't say that lightly). If you're even remotely interested in fairytale, in fantasy, in magic, then I urge you to pick it up: it is lovely.