Uprooted Published May 21, 2015 by Macmillan.
Source: Publisher. Thank you Macmillan for providing me with an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Genre: YA fantasy.
“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.”
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.
Ahhh this was one of the best books I’ve read this year. I actually won a copy from Mel in a great giveaway, but it hasn’t arrived yet, but I also got an e-arc from the publisher.
I’ve been thinking about Uprooted a lot since I finished it last week and I have to say it’s probably the best fairytale retelling I’ve ever read. This is why I’ve been putting off writing this review until the very last moment. What can I say that will make you read this book? It’s unique, innovative and surprising, which are all qualities I’ve been missing from my reads lately, and it’s left me with this massive book hungover I’m only beginning to get past. Also: the UK cover is gorgeous, is it not?
Uprooted is a Beauty and the Beast retelling only in the most basic sense: the Dragon (a wizard that goes by this name, not an actual dragon) takes a girl from his valley every ten years and though everyone thought he would pick Kasia, Agnieszka’s best friend, he grumpily decides on Agnieszka herself.
This is where the fun starts. Agnieszka’s time at the Dragon’s tower is exhausting at first because she can’t figure out why he keeps making her do weird things like magically changing her clothes (she’s the most untidy person ever and while lots of YA heroines claim to be “ordinary” or “not pretty in the conventional sense”, Agnieszka usually looks like she was dragged through the bushes and then rolled around on the kitchen floor for a while. This irritates the Dragon to no end, which was really interesting.). I can’t go into details of the story because of spoilers but let’s just say that it seems like Novik took the B&B story and said: “Well, my heroine isn’t just going to wait around to be rescued, she’s going to DO things, even if she can’t escape. She also won’t moon over this wizard guy, she’s got other stuff to worry about.”
Agnieszka is one great heroine. But while she’s perfectly fine on her own, it’s her relationships with others that make her so special. She’s mortally afraid of the Dragon at first but does she wilt like a flower and stop trying to figure him out? Nope. Her relationship with her parents is cool and she’s not above weeping herself to sleep while her mom strokes her hair. Everyone does that sometimes. But I loved her friendship with Kasia the most. For years, they lived with the knowledge (even though it was false) that Kasia would be taken by the Dragon, which created this wonderful dynamic between them. I actually asked myself whether they were more than friends, perhaps, but their love – unconditional and yet so very real – was perfect in any case.
Then there’s the Wood. It’s funny how much of a chicken I am (not really funny for me but I guess people would laugh at me if they ever knew): I was walking in the forest with the kiddo the other day (after reading Uprooted) and I kept squinting into the forest, checking that it wasn’t out to get me. Seriously. I dislike going deep into the woods on my own (hello, have you read ALL THE FAIRYTALES?), especially at night, which made camping with the scouts a special kind of adventure for me! So you’ll understand my horror at reading about a Wood that’s sentient and very, very malicious. Novik created a place of nightmares – and made it worse because it’s spreading. So creepy! And yet beautiful, somehow.
Ok this review is getting out of hand…
My only, teeny-tiny negative comment would be on the length of the novel: towards the end, I felt like it could have been a tad shorter. I read it on my Kindle but Goodreads says it has 450 pages, which isn’t that much for a fantasy novel.
I love that Uprooted is a standalone. I definitely wouldn’t mind reading more stories set in the same world (a quick note on that: the names all sounded vaguely Polish to me and I liked it!) but standalone YA fantasies are so rare nowadays that I cherish this one even more.
The ending was absolutely wonderful and I can’t tell you how happy I am that Novik decided to conclude her book in this manner. I know, this is terribly vague, but I REALLY don’t want to spoil your enjoyment of reading this story. Which you will, right? You will read it? :)
Have you read Uprooted? Are you planning to?
What YA standalone would you recommend?
I’d love to hear from you! :)