“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.
The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.
I was really torn about this book. I read this twice within a month’s time frame – once on audiobook and once in hardcover. This is not something I would normally do, but after borrowing the audiobook from my library’s e-catalog and upon starting it, I didn’t know if I could take nearly 18 hours of the narrator’s stilted accent, so I went to the local library and borrowed the hardcover as well. After some time, I did get used to the accent and decided to read both to compare and contrast. Frankly, it was overkill. This was not a book I would have reread for any other reason.
For what it’s worth, I still think this was a good book. For the entire first third of it (in both reading experiences), I found myself thinking, what a unique, fascinating, enchanting magical tale! I wondered about the origins. Maybe a bit of a Beauty and the Beast retelling, mixed with other eastern European folklore or fairy tales?
Novice’s writing style was intriguing. There were some really beautiful turns of phrase, followed by some confusing sentences that I felt could have been worded more clearly, with plenty of dry humor that I particularly enjoyed. The metaphors she used to describe Agnieszka’s magic as being more natural, so to speak, than other wizards and witches, like finding her way through the wood or building a sand castle, were perfect descriptions to form an image of her magic in my head in comparison to the more precise and unfeeling way of the other characters with magical abilities.
Although many people have categorized Uprooted in the romance genre, I actually found the love relationships that focused on friendship and family were much stronger in this book. The friendship between Agnieszka and Kasia was the most compelling relationship for me. It was not perfect: they each had their own problems along with jealousies and insecurities; yet they found ways to work through all things, depend on each other, and work as a team. There were other love relationships that were explored as well: the love of a boy for his mother; the love a queen has for her husband, sister, and family; and finally, a bit of romantic love.
“…as if truth didn’t mean anything without someone to share it with; you could shout truth into the air forever, and spend your life doing it, if someone didn’t come and listen.”
While I enjoyed the relationships explored in the book, I didn’t actually like the characters as individuals much. Agnieszka was my favorite character by far (a good thing, I suppose, as she is the protagonist). Despite having a bit of a special snowflake syndrome, I still found her to be charming and endearing. The remaining characters really just…fell flat on their own.
My biggest issue with this book was the pacing. I missed so much in the audiobook, partly due to the pacing issues and partly because it got so long I started tuning out while doing other things. A lot of events made way more sense once I read the print version, at my own speed. That being said, this also had pacing issues. While certain parts were spot on, the entire middle section was too slow, and the language used in the action scenes was just as flowery as the rest. For these parts, less descriptive and more brisk wording would have made for more dramatic action helping to move the story along.
This story took a turn for the better again towards the end for me. I really enjoyed getting the backstory of how the Wood came to be the creepy antagonist. I also appreciated that the story did not just end, but it concluded in almost an epilogue that gave me nice closure.
So, all this to say I had mixed feelings. For me, this didn’t warrant a reread, and I wish I had read the hardcover version first and been done with it. If folkloric fairy tales are your thing, give this one a shot (in print)!