By Heather A.
4 out of 5 stars ★★★★☆
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.
Uprooted is a stand-alone fairy tale of magic, friendship, love, a kingdom at war, and a dark corruption. For each of these things they are delicately layered within one another. Novik crafts a world in which there is a dark wood that can corrupt anyone who breaths its air, anyone who steps foot in its boundaries, and anyone who is not careful of the others it’s sends out to corrupt. It’s a frightening villain because it’s not tangible—it’s everywhere.
Agnieszka is a young woman and did not expect to be taken by the Dragon, the lord of the valley, but she’s taken as his apprentice because she has magic in her (much to the surprise of her village). Through a lot of angst and learning, she is able to do basic spells. It turns out that she has a different way of executing her magic than the Dragon and he continually gets frustrated with her when the lessons don’t go well. When her village is threatened by the wood, she knows very little magic, but she cleverly is able to keep the wood at bay.
The wood is a continual threat, the corruption that plagues those who enter is a reminder that they will never be safe. Soon, Kasia, Agnieska’s best friend, is taken and she risks everything to save her, even getting corrupted herself. But the Dragon is able to clear Agnieska of the corruption and together they clear the Wood from Kasia, using an advanced spell that has not been used in centuries.
And that’s when the story takes off, the beginning of the story readers know what the villagers know, the Dragon takes a girl of a certain age to his tower and they return after 10 years a changed person and go off into the world. But the more time Agnieska spends with the Dragon the less she’s afraid, and the more she learns and becomes her true self. And the whole narrative does not take place within the tower, her and the Dragon both leave for various, but noble, reasons. Agnieska spends the latter half of the book in the capitol, at the King’s castle.
Beyond learning magic, world building, and the fairy tale elements, this is also a story of friendship. Kasia doesn’t just return to the village after being corrupted, she turns into a very helpful companion when the prince gets involved and she is useful with a sword, continually defending her friend while she does spells and during the rescue of the Queen. The dragon and Agnieska’s relationship is also one to watch because it is built on mutual respect and trust. I really love how well they work together, as seen in the rose bush illusion. Also, the metaphors for every single magical incantation are absolutely beautiful. They are all based in very basic nature. Growing, expanding, following your gut to get the answer, the elements of fire, earth, water, provoke an array of sensory indulgence for the reader that makes all the magic easier to understand.
There were certain parts that were confusing to me, which may have been because of the ARC, but there were some scenes where the logic seemed jumpy, or I didn’t understand the reasoning behind it. Much of it had to do with the prince and his intense drive to save his mother, the court and other wizards and witches there, and kingdom life in general. There was a lot of world building for a stand-alone book so there were some pieces of information that were not expanded upon, like Agnieska’s connection with the dead witch Jaga.
Overall, this was an excellent novel and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of fantasy, magic, and fairy tales. Even though this has a young adult protagonist, much of the story is for an older audience. I’m sure there are features of the story that many would find engaging.
*I received an advanced copy of this book from Young to Publishing’s “Word of Mouth” program. This does not affect my review.*