Uprooted by Naomi Novik is a high fantasy with a romance (not a typical one), set in an area much like Poland (where there is magic.) No elves. Knights, wizards and witches (female wizards), armies, serfs, noblemen, nations at uneasy peace, and a magical wood. Doesn’t sound that bad, does it? But the magical wood takes people, changes them, and makes them monsters that contaminate others, and kill in gruesome ways both humans and animals. This is the world Agniesszka lives in, near a village, in a valley near the Wood. Keeping the Wood contained is a wizard called the Dragon, who takes a girl from the villages every 10 years, to live with him in his tower. Agniesszka, and her village believe her friend Kasia will be chosen, because she’s beautiful, friendly, and talented. Agnieszka can get dirty just walking to the cart to go to the village. She can also find fruit out of season in the forest; she finds the most nuts gleaning in the forest. But never goes into the Wood. The girls chosen by the dragon return to their villages, but never stay. Often they go to the city and the university. They come away from the 10 years with the Dragon different, even though they protest he never touches them.
So, when the time comes, it is Agniesszka who is chosen. She doesn’t realize it, but she herself has magical abilities, and it is against the law to let the magically talented to go untrained. It takes her some time to understand that it’s her own power, and not the dragon’s, powering the spells he makes her say. The Dragon is a young looking man, who is cold, distant, and irritable. (Living 100 years battling an evil Wood might do that….) That makes the entire learning process harder, of course, but eventually she yells back at him, and they both learn a way of doing magic together. There is the usual, accepted, structured magical practices, and then a sort of organic, one once practiced by a famous witch with a name very similar to Babba Yagga. Agniesszka is attuned to this type of magic. Her skill gleaning, and the way branches reach out to her in the forest are signs of it. Although this tale isn’t heavy on romance, with hearts and flowers and speeches, it is there.
The story highlights the strong female friendship between Kasia and Agniesszka, and the developing relationship with the Dragon. The loss of the younger Prince’s mother to the Wood twenty years ago grows into a conflict with the Wood itself. Which is also about a love story, a loss, and a betrayal. But you’ll have to read it to find out how that happens, and how the Dragon and Agniesszka deal with it all.
A very interesting, unpredictable story, with the characters it is based on, a girl and her wandering yellow cow, (the Polish folk tale that inspires this story) near the end.
I loved this book. It is a stand alone, from Naomi Novik known for her Temeraire series. There is another title that is also set in this world, called Spinning Silver that I’m looking forward to reading.
Uprooted, by Naomi Novik, trade paperback.