Jumping onto the ever popular fairytale bandwagon, Uprooted takes it’s reader to a magic realm ruled by an enraged king loosing an impossible war against the monstrous wood that stole his adulterous queen. With its fairytale backdrop and an enchanting premise it presents a popular read to ample waiting readers.
While feudal lords commonly demanded taxes or soldiers, Agnieszka’s village pay a rare price: once a decade the Dragon chooses a seventeen year old girl to live in his tower with him. The girls are often pretty, always exceptional and exactly like Agnieszka’s best friend, Kasia. But when the impossible occurs and Kasia isn’t chosen Agnieszka is faced with a daunting ten years, all the while questioning why the Dragon would choose her instead?
“What an unequaled gift for disaster you have.”
Despite being presented as her principle, and apparently only, flaw clumsiness gives our chaotic protagonist Agnieszka no hindrance. She excels at defeating all offenses the Wood throws at the realm and her aptitude with magic was prevalent from the beginning. Agnieszka disheveled appearance and disregard for pretty dresses, presenting a ‘tom boy’ persona, gave the all too familiar whiff of the overused ‘not like other girls’ trope, each character being besides themselves to express how special she is. This uniqueness in the eyes of the Dragon and her mother was disappointing to read as it implies that feminine qualities possessed by other girls make them weak.
The Dragon’s character was guarded and difficult to engage with, his dialogue always clipped and often cruel, calling Agnieszka demeaning and insulting names, made him difficult to like. I was disappointed by the minimal character development shown by these two pivotal characters, adding to the overall feel that Agnieszka is already perfect in every way. The Dragon’s dry, indifferent and cruel interactions with Agnieszka also remained constant making it difficult for readers to believe in the romantic undertones of the tale.
Kasia, meanwhile, presented a strong female lead. Her humility, selfless attitude and bravery made up in ways Agnieszka’s character was lacking and the friendship between Kasia and Agnieszka was thankfully pivotal to the plot. The dynamic between the two friends provided a refreshing and heart warming embellishment to Uprooted.
“And I wasn’t old enough to be wise, so I loved her more, not less, because I knew she would be taken from me soon.“
The fairytale setting of Uprooted is the novels best feature. Although not unoriginal, the quant villages, picturesque valleys, ominous wood and medieval court created an exciting fantasy location. The familiarity of this setting gave rise to uncomplicated world building as Novik embellished an already familiar setting.
The relationship between Agnieszka and the Dragon felt uncomfortable. The Dragon being over a hundred Agnieszka being just seventeen made the romance difficult to read, coupled with the teacher student, lord and peasant power balance the two maintained throughout the novel. Novik is careful to include explicit consent between the two lovers, but this didn’t make the romance feel any less like a teenage girl being manipulated by an old man. With this uncomfortable backdrop and power dynamic it was difficult to see genuine chemistry between these two characters, the reader having to be told explicitly by the narrator that love is in fact blossoming. No clues are given within the prose itself: the Dragon’s closed character making his feelings difficult to discern while Agnieszka appearing nothing more than belittled in his presence.
“I leaned against his side, his irritation oddly comforting. After a moment he grudgingly put his arm around me.“
Like in many fairytales, family and community are persistent themes throughout Uprooted. Agnieszka leaving her community leads to the internal conflict and turmoil featured often in her narrative. Furthermore the Dragon being abandoned by his family at an early age and the complex relationship between Kasia and the mother who gave up on her are briefly noted. From mothers sacrificing their lives for their children, sisters morning one another to brothers quarrelling for a thrown a plethora of family dynamics are presented to the reader and explored throughout the events of the novel, adding an extra gravitas to a theme so rarely seen in YA novels.
The writing style was digestible enough. Simple descriptions with a fairytale like narrative from Agnieszka’s perspective. A dislike of this disheveled yet always exemplary protagonist made her narrative infuriating to read at times. The pacing felt slow at first, Agnieszka’s initial stay with the Dragon and her time at court feeling unnecessarily drawn out. However this wasn’t necessarily to the novels detriment as it added crucial world building and gave the author space to demonstrate the development of the relationship between the Dragon and his seventeen year old ward.
The premise of Uprooted was intriguing and the wood made a formidable enemy, it’s unknown powers and mysterious origin being a source of anxiety to the characters. However it was difficult to feel invested in the crises of the novel when Agnieszka simply always came to the rescue, her seemingly limitless magic often failing her just after she’d saved the day. There were clear inconsistencies in her powers: she’d struggle to do a simple spell one day, then defeat a great evil the next and return to struggling with simple spells after, which made it difficult for her and the reader to be invested in any struggles struggles presented.
As Agnieszka is seventeen the novel is probably aimed at teenage fantasy readers. With an explicitly described sex scene and graphically detailed, gory battles it would be for older, more mature teenagers and young adults.
Overall, Uprooted is disappointing. With an interesting premise and exciting plot it’s despondent there is not a more complex and unique protagonist narrating the tale.