Uprooted by Naomi Novik
This fantasy novel is reminiscent of a cross between a dark version of Beauty and the Beast and the Harry Potter series. Agnieszka, our heroine, is plucked from obscurity and thrown into confusion, loneliness and chaos before discovering how to use her magic.
“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley.” As the story starts, the reader learns they are waiting for a reaping. Every ten years, the Dragon takes a seventeen-year-old girl off to his tower for a decade of servitude. The girls are released after their time in the Tower but they are always subtly changed from the simple girls they once were. The Dragon is what they call the local wizard who protects their valley. The valley is a lovely and green place, but all there are endangered by the rapidly encroaching Woods, a malevolent forest which literally eats people to sustain itself. The people of the valley have become resigned to the reaping as the only way to protect their homes and families.
The whole village of Dvernik has always known that when their turn comes, the Dragon will choose the beautiful and fearless Kasia. Instead, he chooses her best friend, Agnieszka, which confuses and dismays everyone. Agnieszka is clumsy and plain. She can’t cook, can’t stay clean for even five minutes, and is notoriously casual about following directions. What possible use can she be to the Dragon? What will happen to her now? What will happen to the people of the valley?
Educating herself by reading the books she finds in the Dragon’s library, Agnieszka realizes that she has a strong and intuitive magic of her own. The plot unwinds slowly but steadily as she learns more of magic, and the Dragon, and the world beyond her small valley.
This book has an original setting and characters that are charming, flawed, and thoroughly likeable. Agnieszka has an inherent kindness and a resilient spirit. Her loyalty to her friends, her family and her home make her an admirable character. The Dragon is, like the Beast, both more and less than what the village gossips say. The plot builds slowly but steadily and there is real momentum and horror in the last third of the story. The resolution is satisfying and just open-ended enough to leave the reader wanting more.
For teens and adults who are secretly hoping for an acceptance letter to Hogwarts.
Review by Amy