I didn't know what to expect when I started Uprooted, by Naomi Novik. But, I had a feeling it must be a special book when I had to wait about 4 months to get it from my public library! Well, it was worth the wait. Uprooted is an original, action-packed tale that I couldn't stop reading.
The story begins with a strange explanation of a mysterious wizard:
Our Dragon doesn't eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that's not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he's still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we're grateful, but not that grateful.
So begins a story much like a fairy tale. Not a sweet Beauty and the Beast type story. It's more like a nightmarish story from the brothers Grimm. This is one of the reasons I liked this book so much: it didn't sugar-coat anything.
Every ten years, a girl from the valley is chosen by The Dragon (the Lord of the area) and is taken to his castle. It is unknown what happens to each girl, but that after the ten years are up the girl gets a large dowry and is sent back to her village; but never wants to settle there. She stays for a short time, then leaves the area, never to return.
Agnieszka is a peasant girl born during a year where a girl will be chosen. She, and every one in the valley, think that The Dragon will choose her best friend, Kasia. Because of this, Kasia is treated like a fleeting treasure. She is revered, but no one except Agnieszka gets too close, not even Kasia's own parents. When clumsy, average-looking Agnieszka is whisked away after she is chosen, everyone is dumbfounded. What does The Dragon want of these girls? Will she be a servant, a sexual toy? What did The Dragon see in her?
The story has so many elements that speak to people: self-worth, confidence, community ties. And the theme of putting down roots and being uprooted finds many different situations. Why is The Dragon alone in his tower? What is the evil known as The Wood? Why do the chosen girls feel no connection to the valley once the ten years are up?
I loved the many layers of the story. At first, I thought that we would only get to know Agnieszka, but later Kasia has an important role in the adventure. There is the strangeness of the "corruption" produced by contact with the Wood. Why do plant-life, animals, and people need to be destroyed once they are corrupted? Can anyone be saved? The capital of the Kingdom also plays a major role in the book. I love a book with royal intrigue, and this has plots, and sub-plots aplenty. There are loads of battle scenes as different people try to rid the area of corruption (and of course this can have different meanings, too). I would say that sometimes the battle scenes are exhausting to read. They seem to go on and on. But that is what makes these scenes like a bad dream, which I think the experience of war can be.
There is a very steamy sex scene in the book, but it never crosses the line into mommy-porn. But if you don't care for that, be forewarned. I think the romance in this book is the right amount for the story. It's not sentimental "Does he like me?" kind of situations. A mutual respect builds but the people involved don't suddenly change to create a tidy ending.
I don't know if there are any plans for a sequel, but I would be very interested in reading it should it every come to pass. For the originality of the story, setting and characters I am giving this 5 out of 5 stars.
Source: Borrowed from the Public Library
Recommendation: For lovers of action-adventure, this is a must read!
Will I read more from this author: Yes!!!