Thursday, November 24, 2016

Review of Uprooted by Naomi Novik

This year's Nebula winner, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, is a tour de force of fantasy world building. Agnieszka lives in a magical, medieval version of a valley between Poland and Russia. At first the story seems like standard sword and sorcery fare, when we learn "the Dragon" will be coming for one of the village girls. All girls born in October know they may be the one sacrified.

But we are immediately hooked when we learn the Dragon is not a fire-breathing beast but a wizard who trains a girl every 10 years in tribute for his protection from the evil Wood bordering their valley.

Much to her surprise, the sloppy Nieshka is chosen to go to the Dragon's tower instead of her beautiful friend Kasia. It turns out she has a knack for magic, if only to do foolish things like find fresh berries in winter in the Wood. She is always covered in dirt no matter how careful she is, and she becomes a poor maid and apprentice of the meticulous and disdainful Dragon. Her roots in the valley seem too strong for her to rise above.

We see the foreshadowing that Agnieszka will become a wizard herself like the famous witch Jaga and fight the evil of the Wood. When the Wood claims her friend Kasia, Agnieszka impetuously retrieves her from imprisonment within a giant tree. The Dragon helps her remove any taint of Wood-sickness from Kasia, but it is customary to execute all who have fallen victim to the Wood.

Holding Kasia hostage, the prince of Polya demands that Agnieszka save his mother the Queen, who was lured into the Wood 20 years earlier by an agent of Rosya. Agnieszka and the Dragon find the Queen, and she appears free of evil. But as we've been told, no one goes into the Wood and comes out again, at least not whole and themselves.

Some battle scenes do become tedious as soldiers fighting against the Queen and the Wood are sliced, hacked, beheaded, speared, gored, and dismembered.

The reason for the Wood's corruption and anger is revealed as we follow Agnieszka, Kasia, and the Dragon in their dreadful battle to save humanity from the encroaching Wood.

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