Growing up in, then communist Czechoslovakia, my childhood memories are full of Russian and Slav folk stories and re-discovering some of them recently has been tremendous fun.
Side note: for Russian inspired fantasy novels, some of my favourites are:
How dare they to write such beautiful stories that caused me so many sleepless nights!! How dare they… 😊!!
Now without further ado, let’s have a look at Uprooted:
Uprooted is inspired by Polish fairy tales and it reminded me a bit of The Beauty and the Beast story.
The main character, Agnieszka (Nieszka), lives in a quiet village near the mysterious and highly corrupted Wood.
“There is something worse than monsters in that place. Something that makes monsters.”
The Wood is being kept in check by the Dragon, who is a wizard that demands a price for his service – a company of a village girl for ten years of her life since the age of 17.
The book begins with Dragon’s choosing ceremony held every 10 years. He happens to choose Agnieszka instead of her best friend, Kasia, rumoured to be taken instead. Agnieszka is then ‘trapped’ in the Dragon’s tower serving him and slowly learning magic.
I honestly loved most parts of this book. I thought the pace was wonderful, I loved that slow build up of dread and how wonderfully dark, borderline creepy, the atmosphere was. Battles were not romanticised and were described in a horrible, yet believable manner and Agnieszka’s character thoroughly suffered through them in a very realistic way.
“Yesterday, six thousand men had marched over this road; today, they were all gone.”
Agnieszka is this clumsy but clearly ‘special’ peasant girl that has intuitive magic inside of her that clashes with her teacher’s magic, which is based on studies and is backed up by science. I know this may annoy some, but I personally liked it. I rely on my Intuition (despite calling myself a scientist 😉) and I believe we all have a certain inner wisdom and letting it speak to us is not necessarily a bad thing….
Now let’s explore a few ‘problematic’ things:
• Early on in this book, Agnieszka narrowly avoids being raped. This is when I started disliking the Dragon’s character. The way he suggested it could have been ‘her fault’ made me see red. I don’t mind twisted and torn characters, but I thought the Dragon was a real a$$hole and I just could not see anything likable about him…
.. which makes me move to my second point:
• The romance part didn’t work for me. The teacher (moody, irritable, controlling) vs. his student (defiant, more talented and rebellious) dynamic was just… no thanks. Those two didn’t care for each other that much and the ending was just a bit weird.
What stood out for me was the Agnieszka and Kasia friendship. Those two were clearly in love with each other. Maybe, it was a platonic, fiercely strong friendship kind of love. But regardless of what kind of love it was, I really rooted for them. There was something special about them and I thought they complemented each other well and cared very deeply for each other.
Overall, I enjoyed this book despite those few points above.
It brought me back to my childhood and Novik’s skilful spread of dread was just phenomenal.