Not all woods may be ‘lovely’ but they are decidedly dark and deep. Fantasy writer Naomi Novik’s stand alone book Uprooted brings out the malevolence that can exit in the woods. Fairy tales and fantasy novels are replete with stories about the scary forests – the branches which reach out to grab you, the wolf waiting to make a meal of those straying from the path, the witch in the gingerbread cottage and the Old Forest in Lord of the Rings with Old Man Willow who devoured people. All such stories start off by being an argument in favour of deforestation but thankfully find their way around it by the end
This book begins like an ancient tale where a sacrifice has to be made every 10 years to the Dragon who lives in the area and of course the sacrifice, as always, is a girl. The only difference is that the Dragon is not really a dragon but is a wizard who is the lord and protector of the region where the protagonist’s village is located. The girl who is chosen each decade has to go and live with the Dragon in his tower and nobody knows what she does over there until she is replaced. They only know that she comes back changed, with a dowry and an unwillingness to stick around.
Agnieszka to everyone’s surprise is chosen over her friend Kasia who is perfect in every way as opposed to Agnieszka whose chief skill seems to be attracting dirt and tearing her clothes. But the Dragon sees her capability for magic. Unfortunately it is only later that he realises her capacity for exasperating him, assaulting his aesthetics and throwing his life totally out of gear. And so the story goes…the evil wood that wants to destroy the entire kingdom being held back, Agnieszka coming into her powers and her friend Kasia playing a prominent role. She, surprisingly, does not disappear from the story despite not being the ‘chosen one’.
PS: If a cover can tell the story, this cover can. It is a book that definitely should be judged by its cover which provides the requisite atmosphere. The main character Agnieszka is strong minded, loyal, obstinate and full of magic.
LL: Our kind of person!
PS: Except for her grubbiness, which is just annoying! The Dragon reminds me a bit of Diana Wynn Jones’s Howl. There is an image built by his aloofness and fed by rumours of possible evil and general scariness when he is only peevish and full of himself. Not to mention his liking for clothes and flamboyance.
LL: The story builds nicely and has strong female characters but for me it was an unexpected choice to win the Nebula Award 2015.
PS: Even Fantasy Faction voted it as the best book of 2015. The main reason I liked it is that it is stand-alone novel. I am fed up of trilogies and series of ten. I did not understand all the references to Eastern European myth but despite that Uprooted was unusual and enjoyable.