The Inkwell is a series of book reviews, or just rambling thoughts on specific books. For more, amble here.
Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik
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.
“We’re meant to go. We’re not meant to stay forever.”
― Naomi Novik,
Novik’s novel drew me in like a spider pulling in a fly—spinning thread, weaving words. I was utterly enchanted. But this was not an enchantment of sparkles and shimmer. Uprooted is made of a darker magic. Deep lore, creeping vines, widening gyre.
Rooted in Slavic folklore, it contains many fairytale elements. Perhaps because of this, the book is imbued with a strange familiarity. Everything is twisted, yet it feels bedtime-story nostalgic. Gleaming towers, kidnapped maidens, square-jawed princes, epic quests, lost queens, royal courts, roaring dragons. All present and accounted for. But nothing is like the fairytales you know. No, not even like the darker original Grimm tales.
Before I began the book, only knowing the synopsis, I thought that Agnieszka might be a Belle-type. Plucky and book-smart and good-hearted. An archetype who is so easy for girls like me to relate to that it seems almost like a literary cheat. But I was wrong in the best way. Agnieszka’s journey is a genuinely human one, despite the un-human twists of her life. Her consciousness sets in slow and searing. Her unrooting comes through her development as a wizard’s apprentice, and then as a powerful conjurer of her own right. And the Dragon himself… my god! As with the “Beauty,” I was prepared for the Dragon to be an archetypal “Beast”—a brooding prince with a secret soft spot. What I wasn’t prepared for, even halfway through the book, was the aching humanness of him. His crankiness is more hilarious than Brooding Romantic Hero, and all for the better. And in a way (I add cheekily), his horror when Agnieszka organizes his books by color (BY COLOR!) is way sexier than any romantic-hero-gazing-moodily-over-the-moors.
The Wood is not only a gorgeously woven metaphor, but an incredible antagonist. The friendship between Agnieszka and Kasia is allowed room for flowering and wilting and and regrowth. And the other characters, particularly Alosha the Sword, are wonderful counterparts as well. You might not understand what this means until you’ve read Uprooted, but let me tell you that this book is a masterpiece because every character, EVERY CHARACTER, is allowed a journey and a humanity.
I devoured this book feverishly. I took in every page with a half-swallow in my throat. From the beginning, the pace is lush and harrowing. This book is terrifying. And shockingly funny. And absolutely gorgeous.