Thursday, January 26, 2017


by Naomi Novik
Recommended Ages: 15+

Agnieszka (ag-NYESH-ka) is a 17-year-old girl from the middling village of Dvernik, in a mountain-rimmed agricultural valley at one end of the kingdom of Polnya, where life is pretty simple and people tend to put down deep roots. People from the valley don't even have to serve in the king's army, which is constantly at war with the neighboring kingdom of Rosya, so that's all right. The only problems are the Wood that runs along the side of the valley adjacent to Rosya - a Wood full of malice and corruption, that is slowly trying to devour the whole valley and perhaps, in time, the world - and, of course, the Dragon, who once every ten years chooses one 17-year-old girl from the valley and takes her from all that she knows and loves, as a sort of sacrifice to pay for his protection against the Wood (and against military service, for that matter).

The Dragon (with a capital D) is actually not a dragon (small d). He is only a wizard, albeit one who has lived centuries without apparently aging. Whatever his reason for requiring a local girl to serve him for 10 years at a time, he doesn't eat them, either. Eventually, he lets them go; but in the meantime, something in them changes, and they can never go back to their former life in the valley.

All her life, Agnieszka and everyone else in Dvernik have expected the Dragon to choose her brave, beautiful best friend Kasia as his next human tribute. Both their lives, up to the day of choosing, have been shaped by that assumption. But instead, the Dragon picks Agnieszka - a willful, average-looking girl whose clothes are always torn, disheveled, and dirty, and who seems to have no aptitude for the magic that (to her surprise) the wizard begins trying to teach her. At first she puts up a struggle against the cold, irritable master of the tower at the end of the valley. But then she discovers a path to magic that he never would have expected to work, and none too soon. For the Wood is suddenly on the move, trying to take another bite out of the valley; and fatefully for all concerned, the first morsel it tries to swallow is Kasia.

Whatever happens after that is too big, too powerful, too terrifying, too emotionally complex to summarize in a brief review. Let it be enough to say Agnieszka's determination to save Kasia sets events in train that will rock the entire kingdom, and that will either save the world or destroy it. It will be a near thing either way, since the farther the Wood reaches into Polnya's affairs, the more the kingdom is seized with warfare, betrayals, assassinations, madness, monsters, and more. And the more Polnya is seized with warfare, assassinations, and whatnot, the more the Wood's power grows. Expect a climactic buildup that lacks no conceivable horror, terror, or awfulness; a passionate and adult-content-advisory-worthy romance; an all-but hopeless hope; and a ridiculous amount of strikingly original and yet totally believable magic. What I'm saying is, it's good. If it wasn't so early in the year, I would be shortlisting it for a 2017 Robbie Award.

New York-based author Novik was inspired to write this book, in part, by the Polish fairy tales she was raised on. She is also the author of the nine-book "Temeraire" series, starting with the John W. Campbell Best Book award-winner His Majesty's Dragon (a.k.a. Temeraire) and concluding with League of Dragons, and of the "Liberty Vocational" series of graphic novels, which so far comprises one volume, Will Supervillains Be on the Final?. Uprooted won the 2016 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for best adult literature and the Nebula Award for best novel.

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