Uprooted by Naomi Novik had me from the first line: “Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, not matter what stories they tell outside our valley.” There is something about fairy tales that always grabs the imagination regardless of the reader’s age, especially if there is a dragon involved. Novik takes everything I ever liked about fairy tales and combines it into a wonderful story. Novik brilliantly develops interesting characters and builds a magical world that is both beautiful and terrifying. Agnieszka, the main character, could have easily fallen into the cliché “chosen one” stereotype that is so common in fantasy, but she escapes that horrible fate by being well-developed with strengths and weaknesses. The Dragon in the story is not exactly a dragon, although he might be said to have the personality of one, and the prince is most definitely not Prince Charming. The world Agnieszka inhabits is one of constant danger. The Woods is full of a malignant presence that is constantly taking over land, animals and people and corrupting them. No one knows exactly what this presence is, how long has it been there or why it is doing what is doing. The only clear thing is that is you become corrupted, you will die a horrible death, but not before hurting everyone around you and infecting anyone you touch.
Agnieszka’s town is just on the border with the Woods, and it is under the protection of the wizard known as the Dragon. Every ten years the Dragon takes a maiden to serve him. Agnieszka is terrified of the fast approaching choosing. She knows the dragon will take her best friend Kasia. The Dragon always takes the most talented girl, or the most beautiful, or the bravest; and Kasia is all of those things. No one is more surprised than Agnieszka when the Dragon takes her instead. As happy as she is that her friend is safe, Agnieszka is scared for herself. No one knows what the Dragon does with his maidens, but it can’t be anything good. They all left when their time was done, never to be seen again.
I recommend this book to anyone that enjoys dark fairy tales with a tad of magic, a bunch of danger and a dose of creepiness.