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.
If you are around here often (or around my twitter often) you know how much I desperately desire more fantasy based in cultures that are not Western-European-Medieval. I'll be happy with any culture (give me all the immersion!) but I PARTICULARLY am always on the search for anything with Slavic roots. This may have just a little bit to do with my own Ukrainian heritage? (Just a bit.)
Thus, I was super super excited to read Uprooted, because there had been rumors of its Slavic-ness. And when I read it, I quickly realized that it wasn't only very Slavic, it was through-and-through-no-questions Polish. SO POLISH. (Which makes sense, I suppose, because that is the author's heritage.) It was as Polish as you could get without setting it in actual Poland. Here's why I felt this way:
- The country was called Polnya
- The country they were at war with was called Rusya (*cough cough Russia cough cough*)
- The main character was Agnieszka (only Poland creates sounds with that many s's and k's and z's next to each other.)
- The spells had equally difficult smushings of consonants in them.
But this isn't to say I didn't LIKE the Polish vibes - I actually super adored them (except for the obvious Polnya/Rusya deal). I (being Ukrainian) was able to sound out the spells and figure out sometimes why they did what they did, which was epic. It's kind of like in Harry Potter, where, if you know Latin, you can see the correlation between spells and their results. For example, kalikual, which is a crippling curse in Uprooted, sounds very similar to a word in Ukrainian meaning cripple - kalika - and to the Polish word too - kaleka. Also, one of the towns that had been destroyed by the evil, sentient Wood was called Porosna - sounding very much like the word for empty. It was really cool to notice little things like this, where I could see the worldbuilding actually happening.
Yay! My need for Slavic folklore was satisfied.
Let's talk about what else I liked:
- Agnieszka! (Which, by the way, is a gorgeous name and the diminutive of the Polish version of Agnes, if you were wondering.) I love her as a character. She is insanely clumsy and always manages to have dirt on some part of her clothes, no matter how hard she tries. She's thrown into this world of being a witch, and manages to wrap her head around it effectively enough to make good use of her powers - but it doesn't happen so quickly that it felt like one of those fantasy cliches. I just adored watching her grow as a character.
- Kasia! Kasia is Agnieszka's friend, and is gorgeous and elegant and strong in ways that Agnieszka isn't. But I loved the way her character developed too. To be honest, I didn't expect her to become more than an introductory beautiful maiden contrasted with our clumsy MC - but she totally defied my expectations. The way her development was intertwined with Agnieszka's was beautiful to read.
- The descriptive writing - this book is written so gorgeously! The eerieness, the beauty of the country, the elegant magic, all of it was so immersive. It really made me think of paintings of folktales - quiet, pretty, with an ever-present foreboding of something malicious around the corner. i mean, just the idea of a sentient and evil Wood is fascinating and chilling and I love it. As a disclaimer, I do love full descriptions and all that, so see my last bullet point of this review for more commentary on that.
- The spells - I kind of mentioned this already, but I really love the way the spells sound and feel in my mouth. I read them all out loud (in a whisper, obviously, so people didn't think I was cursing them or something), because I wanted to see if I could translate them. A side effect of this was that I got to experience what they would sound like if actually spoken. The sounds repeat themselves in each spell, in different orders, sometimes slurred for less effect, sometimes enunciated for full power. Just say this: Paran kivitash farantem, paran paran kivitam. See what I mean? THEY. ARE. GORGEOUS. I also love the interplay between the way that Agnieszka works magic and the way that the Dragon works it.
- In general, books with really old wizardy love interests that look like young men just creep me out. Agnieszka is SO MUCH younger than the Dragon, literally like a toddler compared to him. I can forgive the creepy bits about him taking girls from the village - the explanation for that is satisfactory enough - but I'm just not aboard shipping him with Agnieszka. It happens too fast (he's immortal, for heaven's sakes), and if Agnieszka doesn't know better (she's young, I'll give her a pass), he should.
- I... kind of didn't know this wasn't YA? It read like a YA for a lot of the book (though some people say that the flowy writing isn't super YA characteristic, but I liked the writing, so didn't really notice). But then suddenly - SEX SCENE. It wasn't very graphic compared to other NA/Adult books, but it was definitely not your average YA fade-out-to-black sex scene. I didn't mind it necessarily, but I didn't like it because (a) see bullet point above and (b) I was thinking "YA" this whole time and it was a bit of a shock at first. (This isn't really what brought the rating down to four stars, tbh).
- Granted, the writing could be a little slow at times (even for me!) though not frequently. As much as I loved the fullness of her descriptions, it was less of an action adventure fighting book (though it had those scenes) and more of a slow, beautiful, eerieness to it.
Have you read Uprooted? What did you think? What is your favorite fantasy not set in Western-Medieval-Europe? And what is your opinion on immortal and old but young-looking handsome love interests?