By Naomi Novik
Published May 19th 2015
This book got me hooked straight away. It’s not my usual read, but I was taken in by its charm and the whimsical, magical way Agnieszka and her world and her valley were portrayed. The story basically starts with Agnieszka explaining how this powerful wizard called The Dragon protects the villages in her valley from the evil magic Woods. As payment, the Dragon takes a girl from the valley to live in his tower for ten years at a time.
I was really getting into this story. Agnieszka describes her friendship with Kesia, the girl everyone believes will be picked by the Dragon. Then we see the choosing, where the Dragon surprises everyone and picks Agnieszka! Once trapped in the Dragon’s tower Agnieszka finds the Dragon to be rude and controlling. Her chronic clumsiness causes great annoyance to the Dragon, and often results in the two of them falling into a heap on the ground, on top of each other.
It was after the second such instant where the Dragon fell on top of Agnieszka that I stopped and went ‘oh shit; abusive man much older than the clumsy, plain, female protagonist. Is this going to be a Young Adult version of Fifty Shades of Grey?’
I kept going and found that unlike Fifty Shades of Grey or Twilight, this book did actually have a good plot. But, it also had a really terrible, terrible “romance”. There was absolutely no chemistry between Agnieszka and the Dragon. Hell, he doesn’t even apologise for being an arsehole. When they first kissed, I was like ‘hello, where did that come from?’ even though I’d already recognised the signs of a poorly written romance and knew it was coming.
So, enough about the romance. The less said about that the better. Let’s talk about the characterisation and the magic.
Agnieszka starts off awesome. Once she learns she has magic, she becomes a somewhat apathetic student. My favourite part of the book was when a barely competent Agnieszka realises her village is under attack by the Woods, while the Dragon is away. Knowing that she needs to act despite her incompetence, she grabs the four potions whose functions she knows and goes to help. She struggles to help her town, and fails in some areas… but she does okay. Her rescue mission is exciting, and about as successful as I’d imagine it to be. It was my favourite part of the book, and it made me feel more invested in Agnieszka; she wasn’t just an infallible Mary Sue, she was flawed, but she was trying and often succeeding despite those flaws.
As the story went on though, Agnieszka lost some of that appeal for me. Just by applying herself to the study of magic she becomes unrealistically powerful. I get that some of that power increase is that she has a different type of magic to other wizards in this world, but after only a few months of study, she becomes one of the top magical users in the Kingdom. She fights alongside – and against – wizards who have been doing this for centuries. A lot of the tension in the later parts of the book was lost, because I just knew Agnieszka and her super special magical powers would be able to fix things somehow.
As for the magic system in this book, let’s just say I really loved it. Enchanted swords, fancy incantations, potions, a bestiary that turns the reader into beasts, all really fun stuff. The Woods and their evil magic, being able to corrupt people plants and animals, were also great. The Woods made a good enemy, and the descriptions whenever characters went in there was spot on.
As much as I loved the Woods and Agnieszka’s valley, I will admit that I was disappointed when the action left the valley and we were shown more of the world. There’s nothing wrong with the worldbuilding that I can put my finger on, but it just didn’t seem as magical.
Another thing I had a problem with was the ending. There was this big awesome final battle, beautifully described and with a bloody confrontation with the big bad at the end… but that wasn’t where the plot got resolved. After this big climax we go back into the Woods for a few chapters, leading to a confusing and anti-climactic finish.
So all in all, I found Uprooted to be a mixed bag. Mostly positive; I liked the magic and the plot, but there were some little problems (and big ones) that kept this from being an amazing book.