I haven’t read any Naomi Novik before, but this was recommended on one of those ‘If you liked this, you’ll like…’ on finishing The Bear and the Nightingale, with which it shares a fairytale feel and a young woman coming of age and magic, surrounded by a malignant forest. Uprooted isn’t quite as good as The Bear and The Nightingale, but was good enough for me to note Novik as one to read more from.
Agnieska lives in the village of Dvernik where, every ten years, the Dragon from a nearby tower comes and chooses a young girl to take away with him. This isn’t a fire-breathing, maiden-eating dragon, however, but a wizard bound by his promise to the King to reside in the tower and keep the power of the forest surrounding Dvernik at bay. Interestingly, this forest isn’t just gloomy and full of dangerous animals but actively malignant, sending twisted creatures out to spread its evil influence through poisoned teeth and claws, and where even the air can cast a deadly spell.
With the wizard traditionally choosing girls who are a little ‘special’ in some way, Agnieska has grown up believing that she’ll soon bid goodbye to her beautiful friend, Kasia, but manages to attract the Dragon’s attention herself. Whisked off without goodbyes to take up residence in the tower, she soon discovers why she’s drawn the Dragon’s attention, holding as she does more than her own share of magic, and after hearing that her friend Kasia has been lost in the woods, she sets herself against the forces that the Dragon has long held at bay in an effort to save those she loves.
While there was lots I loved about Uprooted, especially the forest as a character all of its own, Agnieska had a touch too much of the Mary Sue about her for me to really lose it. Not only quickly becoming adept at magic but soon surpassing pretty much everyone around her, while the kingdom’s wizards had nearly all been practicing magic for hundreds of years, all the teenaged Agnieska has to do it get it a snit and stamp her foot for the world to shake. And while I think I was supposed to be into her relationship with the Dragon, he was far too much of a snippy, negging douche for me to buy into as a love interest. Much more satisfying was the other central relationship between Agnieska and Kasia, which had far more importance as it fuelled a lot of her motivation and was refreshingly free of the usual rivalries.
In all, while there were a few irritants in Uprooted, they were minor, and I’m definitely interested to read more of Novik in the future.