Review: Uprooted

Naomi Novik’s Uprooted feels like an old familiar fairy tale, but it’s different than any you’ve heard before. In a quiet, ordinary little village, at the edge of the Wood, lives a plain, ordinary teenage girl. Only neither the village nor the girl are truly ordinary. The village, Dvernik, is nestled between an enchanted, evil Wood, and the tall, lonely tower of a wizard— called the Dragon— who holds back the Wood’s dark forces. The girl, Agnieszka, seems only to have a unique talent for getting dirty and disheveled, but she will soon discover that she has magic inside her.

Every ten years, the Dragon comes down from his tower and takes a seventeen year old girl as payment for protecting the village. Ostensibly, he takes them to cook and clean, but the villagers suspect worse things of him. The girls he takes never come home. When their ten years are up, they travel to other parts of the kingdom, so the villagers don’t ever find out what happened to them in the tower. Regardless, one girl every decade seems a small price to pay for protection from the Wood. They have little alternative.

This year, Agnieszka is one of the girls presented to the Dragon for selection. Despite her disheveled mediocrity, she is chosen, uprooted from her home, and transplanted into the tower. There she discovers her unique powers and learns to use them under the Dragon’s tutelage. When the Dragon is called away in service to the crown, the Wood threatens her village. Agnieszka uses what little magic she has learned to save it. Her victory–though not without collateral damage–inspires her. Perhaps if she and the Dragon combined their magic, they could rid the kingdom of the evil lurking inside the Wood, once and for all.

Before the Dragon can finish pointing out the flaws in her plan, both of them are forced into a virtual suicide mission. Their quest takes them into the Wood, out again by the skin of their teeth, then to the kingdom’s capital and the palace. There, Agnieszka battles deception, corruption, and cruelty…and discovers just how far the Wood’s roots can spread.

By the time she returns to Dvernik, she discovers she has feelings for the Dragon, but the kingdom (and perhaps all of humanity) is in danger of being utterly consumed by the darkness within the Wood. Those with any power to wield must expend it all in a desperate attempt to cut out the heart of evil beating beneath those branches. Ultimately, when all other efforts fail them, they fight using the only thing left to them: the Truth.

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