I’ve found that I can finish the books I buy on my Kindle within a day, sometimes two if I really need to get some sleep. When it comes to ‘proper’ physical books, I find that it takes me a lot longer. Normally it can take me anything from one week to one month, depending on how much work I’ve got to do and whether or not I actually like the book. Although as well as reading the book, I’ll often have a couple books on my Kindle at the go. Then I discovered a beautiful book called Uprooted by Naomi Novik with an absolutely stunning cover, and luckily my Dad followed through and bought me a copy for Christmas. I picked it up towards the end of January, on a Thursday night, and by Saturday night (or, should I say, Sunday at 1am) I had finished it. Seeing as I had university on Friday and work all day Saturday, it was pretty impressive.
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, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost 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 no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.
One thing I have to say is that you can’t really tell how beautiful the cover of the book is from the above photo, as it has shiny bits which are really very underrated these days. I know everyone goes on about not judging a book by its cover, but when a book is this beautiful you just have to get it. It would be wrong not to.
Inspired by old legends and folk tales, this book is everything you could possibly wish for in a fantasy book. I knew almost nothing about this book outside of the blurb, but with a wizard called Dragon and an enemy in ‘The Wood’, how could I resist? Although I did have Meryl Streep’s voice saying ‘Into the Wood’ every time it was mentioned.
Agnieszka is an interesting heroine, and we’re introduced to her with the belief that she isn’t the heroine, just the girl we follow. In her world, the wizard Dragon takes a girl every ten years to serve him – not that anyone knows what he truly needs from these girls or, shall I say, what he takes. Agnieszka’s best friend Kasia is the girl who everyone believes the Dragon will take this time around, but as is revealed in the blurb – and what you can probably guess without even starting the story – ‘it is not Kasia he will take with him’.
The concept of having the mysterious Wood as the enemy was fantastic and worked brilliantly, and having a kind of anti-heroine in Agnieszka was wonderful to read – she isn’t the most beautiful, or the most talented, but ends up being the ‘chosen one’. There’s not much more I can say without spoiling the book, but I will say that there is a reason I finished it in three nights – the combination of a brilliant, intricate plot, wonderfully dynamic characters, and a beautiful writing style made this one of my favourite books.
SPOILER SECTION – I will not reveal the end, but there are a few topics I’d like to discuss which will spoil parts of the book. You have been warned.
It’s safe to say that I adored this book, but there was a particular element that didn’t work for me. But let’s start with the positives first. Kasia easily became my favourite character, which was quite the surprise to how I felt at the beginning. Clearly Agnieszka is the one you prefer at the beginning, being the clutzy girl who isn’t all that interesting. After she’s chosen, she soon becomes this surprisingly powerful, but still stubborn, character that you still love, but Kasia’s development as a character was stunning to watch. She starts off as the ‘perfect’ one, but after the Wood takes her everything seems to change. Naomi Novik was very clever in revealing Kasia’s flaws, and I especially loved the jealousy of Agnieszka that is revealed. As the story goes on and Kasia has her new-found gift thanks to the Wood, she turns into this strong – physically and mentally – woman who is ready to fight for friendship and protect those she loves. In all honesty, I just want a Kasia side story to read, a novella will do – just something, please Naomi?
Now onto the part that I didn’t like. I do firmly give this book 5 stars, but in honesty I think I’d give it 4.8 stars if that was possible. Although I grew to love the moody Dragon, in no way did I enjoy the romance that was added between him and Agnieszka. Their first ‘romantic encounter’ was not even the slightest romantic, and felt entirely forced like it couldn’t be helped as they were consumed by their magic yada yada. I absolutely understand where Naomi was going with it, what with the connection formed by doing joint magic, but the relationship between these two characters didn’t need to progress to a romantic one. At no point did it feel natural or comfortable, and I would have far preferred it if the romance was left out entirely. Perhaps if there were a few softer moments, such as a calmer scene between the two, but all we have are a few scenes that don’t even escalate to being a romantic scene; one second they’re practising magic and the next they’re kissing and Dragon is playing out the standard mysterious love interest trope of saying that it’s not right, he’s not good for her, she needs to stay away from him, he’s trying to protect her blah blah, ok, right-o, we get it, move on.
Apart from that, I stand by my opinion that this book was beautifully woven together and artfully told, with a new, interesting plot with legends and tale adaptations that were new to me and great to read.