There are so many great fantasy series out there, but it is quite hard to find a brilliant standalone fantasy novel. For that reason, Uprooted is so refreshing to read as a lover of fantasy – even though I love a good series, it was so much fun to see well-crafted characters, an exciting and complete storyline, a fascinating magical world with its own unique history and culture, all in one book!
Agnieszka, our main character, lives in a valley that is bordered by a forest. However, this forest is unlike any others. It is full of dark magical powers that corrupt those that come into contact with it. By corrupting the people who live around it, the forest gradually grows and grows, taking up more and more space, and encroaching further and further on Agnieszka’s village. In return for fighting the forest and protecting the people in the valley, a wizard called the Dragon asks for one thing only: a 17-year-old girl to live with him in his tower for 10 years. Agnieszka is chosen to be this girl, much to the surprise of everyone in the valley, who expected her (prettier and sweeter) friend Kasia.
This was all I knew about the novel when I decided to read it, and I was surprised to find that all of this happened within the first chapter. I had hundreds more pages to read, and absolutely no idea of where the story would go! This made the reading experience so different to anything I had ever had before, because I went into most of the novel completely blind. In fact, the story was like a rollercoaster, with each chapter bringing a new challenge, a new twist, a new surprise. No part of this book’s story is predictable, and apart from a small section of a few chapters in the middle that lost me a little bit, none of it was boring.
The characters in Uprooted were also a pleasure to read. While the Dragon remains an enigma and quite vague the whole way through, this is part of his distant character, it is really Agnieszka and Kasia who stole the show. Their friendship is central to the whole book, and drives the entire storyline. I liked to see a close relationship that wasn’t romantic be at the core of a novel, even despite the fact that there was a romantic relationship. The ‘romance’ plot was very much a subplot, and I liked that you could have taken it out and the novel would have remained by and large the same.
This is also one of the best examples of world-building I have read in a standalone novel. I loved that the villain wasn’t a person, or a monster that could be easily identified, but the vast, spreading forest. This, together with Naomi Novik’s twisting plot, meant that there are plenty of times during the novel where I was sure that there was no way out. When we finally found out what the forest actually is and how it is stopped, I thought it was a beautiful explanation that perfectly wound in the history that Novik had crafted for the world. However, I would have loved to have seen more of the ‘forest’ as a proper character, as this only really became clear in the last few chapters.
I definitely recommend this if you love fantasy novels. The world and magic are interesting and unique, and Novik makes you root for the characters and genuinely fear for them as they face so many different and unpredictable trials over the course of the novel.