A truly grown-up fairy tale. 4 stars.
The blurb: 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.
Of all the fantasy stories I’ve read this year, Uprooted stands out thanks to its depth, which is fitting for a story obsessed with figurative and literal roots.
For all of you who shy away from fantasy thinking it all too far-fetched or frivolous, I suggest you give Uprooted a try. This is a grown-up fairy tale which is mercifully free from characters who spend their time navel-gazing, complaining to their friends about their problems and going through developmental angst. The characters in Uprooted all have bigger things to worry about besides themselves and deal with their issues by taking action.
As you read, you get the impression that Novak had been thinking about this book for years before sitting down to write it. There wasn’t a glimmer of superficiality anywhere: not in plot (which was always planned about 5 moves ahead of where we were, providing some excellent surprises), character or setting. The narrative is underpinned by the author’s knowledge of Polish and Russian folklore which gives it a timeless quality. Also, Novak deserves praise for keeping things clear: although there’s a lot happening simultaneously on several levels, I never felt lost or left behind.
Even more praise should be heaped on Novak for her female characters, particularly Agnieszka and Kasia. We get to watch our heroines develop from young girls who seem to have no choice in determining how their lives are going to pan out, to powerful women who get to decide their own fates.
Overall: if you’re looking for a truly grown-up, complex fairy tale, I recommend you check out Uprooted.
Claire Huston / Art and Soul