Sophia Uy//Blog Writer
Uprooted by Naomi Novik is a fantasy novel heavily inspired by Eastern European folklore and one of my favorite books in the last five years. For a stand-alone novel, the story packs a surprising punch with an endlessly entertaining cast of characters and a fully developed world brimming with fairy tale magic. At first glance the premise sounds like a familiar one, including a young maiden, a dragon and a magical tower. It even touches upon other very well-known story tropes, playing off the “Beauty and the Beast” narrative as well as the “damsel in distress,” and turning them all on their heads. What I think Novik does exceptionally well, however, is the way she manages to subvert expectations and deconstruct the typical tropes often associated with high fantasy without losing the charm and brightness that gives Uprooted the feel of a modern fairy tale classic.
As an avid fan of the fantasy genre, I’ve developed a near-masochistic love of long, meandering paragraphs purely dedicated to exposition and world building. I’m also aware it’s a love that not everyone shares, and with good reason. Luckily, Uprooted manages to create a fully realized magical world without any of that. From the first person perspective of her main character, Agnieszka, the rules of Uprooted’s setting are relayed to the reader like everyday facts. From the way magic can exist as grand and imperial, or intimate and rustic, to the surreal and unnerving existence of The Woods, the enchanted forest that lies at the edge of the kingdom, Agnieszka brings the reader into her world like one would bring an old friend. It’s a seamless and organic immersion and one of the many reasons why this book is so hard to put down.
At the core of this novel, much like any other story worth telling, are the characters. Agnieszka as the off-kilter narrator is the perfect fit for this subversive fairy tale. Her internal and external voice is full of life, fluctuating between hilarious and heart-breaking. Her fears and wants often contradict each other, and Novik does not shy away from letting Agnieszka make mistakes, nor does she let her heroine escape their consequences. While it is an absolute joy to experience the story through Agnieszka’s eyes due to her all-at-once brash yet sincere narration, it’s the deep emotional investment in her character and the others that truly makes Uprooted worthwhile.
I won’t lie, one of the reasons I first picked up this book was a comment from an online Barnes & Noble review. It lauded Novik’s storytelling and world building, but what truly caught my eye was the phrase “enemies to lovers.” While I don’t view the main romantic subplot of Uprooted as an “enemies to lovers” narrative, I still fell in love with it head over heels. However, I wouldn’t call that romance the most important relationship of the novel, more like the cherry on top of the cake. The true emotional linchpin of Uprooted is the relationship between Agnieszka and her best friend, Kasia. Almost everything Agnieszka does, almost every sacrifice and choice she makes, is for the sake of Kasia and vice versa. For all the things Uprooted is – a fairy tale, an epic fantasy, a coming-of-age for a young woman in a patriarchal world – the heart of it lies in Agnieszka and Kasia’s friendship.
Uprooted is a deceptively simple story. Even the way Novik writes adheres to that. But like her characters, and like the world the reader gets to slowly sink into, Uprooted unveils itself with an understated beauty. Yes, it is a book for readers who love fantasy and fairy tales, but I’d argue it’s also a book for anyone who enjoys character-driven plots, fun, tightly written narratives, and stories celebrating the relationships between people.