Uprooted by Naomi Novik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A wizard called The Dragon watches over the valley from his tower. Once every ten years, he takes a girl from the valley as tribute. When he picks a girl named Agnieszka, he gets more than he bargained for...
One of my takeaways from The Goodreads Summit was that Uprooted was a guaranteed five star read. It didn't quite hit that high for me but it was a damn good read.
I didn't know until the acknowledgements that this was based on a Slavic folktale, though I suspected it was linked to Baba Yaga, the witch with the dancing hut I knew from mythology and, of course, playing Dungeons and Dragons. That it's based on a folk tale made sense since it immediately evoked the same feelings as other fairy tale-ish reads like The Last Unicorn, The Eyes of the Dragon, and another book I'll fill in later once I remember the name of it. Edit: I just remembered the book was Stardust.
I've seen people call this YA and romance but I don't really think it was either. There is a romantic element and the heroine is 17 but it's straight up fantasy if you ask me.
Anyway, Uprooted is the tale of a valley with a corrupted enchanted Wood growing in the middle of it that spawns all kinds of nastiness and expands every year. The Dragon is the self-appointed protector of the valley and one curmudgeonly son of a bitch. I loved him right away. He picks a girl named Agnieszka to come live at his tower and she proves to be quite a handful.
The Wood, the malevolent forest, is one of my favorite parts of the book. Its ever-present danger reminded me of the corelings from The Warded Man at times. The woods can be a scary place when you're by yourself. Imagine if you could be torn to shreds by giant stick-insects or trapped inside a tree forever.
Agnieszka and The Dragon don't immediately become joined at the genitals and their relationship develops pretty organically. Still, as with most stories involving someone hundreds of years old knocking boots with someone not yet in their twenties, I found it a little implausible.
Corruption is everywhere seemed to be the underlying theme. Even without the threat of the Wood and its corrupting influence, The Rosyans and Polnyans would have found a way to go to war.
The ending was great. I really liked that it wasn't the usual happily ever after affair. It left a lot of unanswered questions, as it should be. The Dragon wouldn't be nearly as interesting with all of his secrets revealed.
I liked the first half a lot better than the second half, though Novik can definitely write a large battle. All things considered, it was a damn fine book to end the year with. Four out of five stars.
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