BWW Review: UPROOTED by Naomi Novik
Some books have the instant feel of a classic. UPROOTED by Naomi Novik is one of them. In many ways--some small, some large--this novel reminded me of beloved fantasy staples such as HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones and The Immortals Quartet [AKA the Daine books] by Tamora Pierce. It's not a direct retelling of any one tale, but it's been influenced by several pieces of lore and gives nods to many others. To me, it mostly closely resembles a Beauty and the Beast tale, and yet, it's not any sort of retelling. It's also reminiscent of medieval lore where dragons drag girls off as village sacrifices, and yet, that's not quite right either. UPROOTED is wholly original, but will suit the tastes of fairy tale lovers everywhere.
Agnieszka has grown up knowing that she could be chosen by the Dragon, her village's wizard, to spend ten years locked away in his tower. She knows this, and yet she isn't worried. No one is, really, save Kasia, the one girl everyone knows will be chosen. She's the most beautiful, the most accomplished, the most skilled. She's exactly the type of girl the Dragon chooses once every decade. And yet when the fated Choosing arrives, it is Agnieszka who is chosen, much to everyone's surprise. Agnieszka, who has no skills, who can't keep her skirt clean of mud or her hair free of brambles for more than five minutes. Agnieszka doesn't understand why he chose her or how all the girls before her served ten long years as his servant. Though Agnieszka is uprooted and pulled away from her home, her roots to her loved ones remain deep. When the Dragon starts teaching Agnieszka magic, she learns the hard way that she has the ability to protect her village and loved ones in a way no one else can.
There is a strong bond of friendship and family in UPROOTED. I really liked the way this theme is so strong; it is the core that holds everything together. If Agnieszka didn't love her friends and family so strongly, she'd never go through so much hell and come out so vastly changed. Agnieszka is very strong-willed and stubborn. She knows what she wants and isn't afraid to stand up and take it, even with a cranky, magic-wielding wizard breathing down her neck. She risks her own life many times, and it's really hard to talk about so much of this book without spoiling so much of its charm.
If you're looking for a book heavy on romance, you won't find it here. There's definitely some slow-burn chemistry at play and a lot of mutual attraction, but not an out-and-out romance. UPROOTED is a stand-alone, but if more books come out in the future, I can see Agnieszka's emotional ties to various characters growing deeper and more mature. For now, as far as she's come, she still has a lot of growing up to do. It's always so refreshing to see a novel where the romance is an element of the plot rather than the majority of it! There's also an exploration of so many more types of love than the sole focus on romantic love so often seen in books. That said, if there are more books in the future, I'd like to see that element further developed!
The one thing that drove me nuts was the way sometimes Agnieszka would be thinking something and then in the very next paragraph, a character would respond to what she was thinking about. At first, I thought the Dragon could read her mind, but when other characters did it too, I realized that Agnieszka must be saying all of this stuff out loud and it was just happening off the page. It's my only real quibble with this book, though. Well, that and the fact that I want more adventures with Agnieszka. We've only just begun to explore her potential! I'm hoping that Naomi Novik will return to this world after completing her best-selling Temeraire series!
One last, really cool tidbit: Ellen DeGeneres, in rare form, will step outside of television to produce the upcoming Warner Brothers adaptation of this book with her A Very Good Production partner Jeff Gleeman. There was a hot bidding war for the movie rights, and I'm really hoping this goes into production soon!