After complaining about the humdrum predictability of Michael J. Sullivan’s fantasy The Rivria Revelations series, I then pick up Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and I’m enchanted into a highly designed, almost beguiling fantasy of wizards, Kings, and a wickedness known only as the Wood.
“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."
Novik, is a second-generation American; her father is of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry, and her mother is an ethnic Pole. After writing eight books in the Temeraire series (a ninth and final volume is due later this year and one I’ve not read), Novik decided to mine her own parents legacy in folklore and mythology of Eastern Europe for this novel. And while Uprooted certainly carries the many tropes of fantasy novels before, Novik does a splendid job of upsetting the apple cart here on those expectations (something Sullivan did not do, and thus I pass on his other work). Agnieszka (author pronounces it ag-NYESH-kah) does not have an easy life once living with the Dragon. As a matter of fact, it sort of borders on child abuse –and the set pieces through the malevolent Wood are pretty horrible stuff. And while the book could’ve used some humor to offset the darkness, it shines with greatly with wonderful characterization and a new and very original way to present these old stories.
This appears to be a rare stand-alone fantasy novel, which I liked in many ways. But if Ms Novik were to continue, I might be inclined to follow.