I typically don't review books that are considered adult books on the blog. I think this is a first. I've always used the blog as resource for students and parents. But Uprooted by Naomi Novik has enough crossover YA appeal I'm making an exception. Also I just want to rave about how much I LOVE THIS BOOK.
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.
This is how Agnieszka's story begins. She is one of the girls who will be lined up as a potential companion for the Dragon. She is not angry but not overly worried. Everyone knows what type of girl the Dragon chooses and she is not it. Her best friend Kasia is. Their entire lives Kasia and Agnieszka have prepared for the day when Kasia will leave and Agnieszka will be left behind. Except that's not what happens. In a startling turn of events-before Agnieszka can even begin to process it-she's the chosen one and in the Dragon's tower. He doesn't even give her time to say good-bye. Agnieszka stumbles through her first weeks alternating between fear, anger, and sadness. The Dragon, Sarkan, just seems overall fed up and exasperated with her. Soon Agnieszka realizes the strange magical interactions she is having with Sarkan are unique and something the other girls were not subjected to because she is a witch and she needs to be trained. Agnieszka isn't exactly amendable to the Dragon's training though and figure her own unique way of performing magic, one she can intertwine with his to make them both stronger. Before her training can get very far though, the dangerous Wood begins its first moves in a plan to bring down the entire kingdom. Agnieszka finds herself in the middle of a web of political intrigue and old dark magical debts to be paid.
This is everything I want in a fantasy novel written in such a way as to make it absolutely perfect.
CHARACTERS! CHARACTERS! CHARACTERS!
Agnieszka is a wonderful heroine. Awkward and clueless in the beginning (as is anyone who is suddenly thrown into a life they never contemplated living), she soon discovers how to wield her new found power and figure out how to manage Sarkan at the same time. As the novel progresses she becomes more bold, assertive, and a force to be reckoned with. Her arc is truly wonderful and watching her grow is so much fun. She is clever from the beginning, and even though she is also naive, she learns so fast. And she does not suffer fools lightly.
Kasia is equally wonderful but in different ways. She has been trained to be brave. She has been trained to be the one who leaves not the one who is left behind and quickly has to adjust her entire way of thinking and deal with the fallout. Then her entire world is rocked even further, ripping her out of the life she was just adjusting to and sending her down a terrifying new road.
Sarkan is exactly the kind of hero I love. He comes across as a surly jerk, but it's because he is a lone nerdy wizard who has no idea how to socially interact with others. He's also a little vain and likes the comforts of life. He doesn't like change, and doesn't bend to it easily, but is able to when it is required.
Then there are all the minor characters, each of who stand out as important, three dimensional, real people. I cared about every single person in this book even the ones who were at odds with Agnieszka and co.
There are so many great relationships in this book, both major and minor. The friendship between Agnieszka and Kasia is beautiful. They see the worst each in other-not intentionally but it happens-and they emerge on the other side of it stronger. There is not much they won't do for each other. I love seeing amazing nuanced female friendships and this one is particularly well rendered.
I have lots of feels about the relationship between Agnieszka and Sarkan, which developed exactly as I hoped it would. I love how quickly they found equal footing with each other, and that Agnieszka was not dependent on him for much for long. Her magic is so different from his, and while he bristles at having to accept this new view that it's possible, he adjusts rather quickly to seeing her as an equal he can trust. Everything about how their connection unfolded was just perfect to me, and I loved its resolution as well. They are both powerful and important and together they make a great team.
I loved how much you could infer about all the other relationships in the book too. Parental, sibling, community, working, all of it is so well done. Form the small villages to the King's court in the capital you can see the threads of respect that bind people, and the discord that keeps some apart. It is woven subtly in to the text too without it having to be explained.
PLOT AND POLITICS AND INTRIGUE AND MAGIC
The plot is a complex mix of magic and politics. My favorite kind of fantasy novel. There are fairy tale elements woven through it as well. It is a complicated and dark story with varying shades of gray. And not everyone gets the end they necessarily deserve which I always like to see because it is so true to life. I like how the book highlighted the complicated consequences of violence, war, and surfeit of ambition that can be easily manipulated to go astray. The way Novik pulled everything together in the end and made me believe the outcome was pure artistry.
I reread several parts of the book as soon as I finished because I didn't want to leave it behind. This is going to be a go to comfort reread for me. I can see that already. (I actually knew it about 50 pages in.) I'm so glad I went ahead and bought it when the library copy was taking to long for me to wait for.