Like her Temeraire series, Naomi Novik’s Uprooted starts with a dragon. But this creature of legend isn’t a wyrm: he’s a human wizard. And the protagonist isn’t a Napoleonic-era English naval captain: she’s a peasant girl.
Uprooted continues to set itself apart as the story progresses. While the Temeraire series is historical fantasy, Uprooted is closer to straight fantasy (despite being set in 16th century Poland). Instead of third person limited, Novik tells her new tale in first person. And in place of a male-dominated cast, Uprooted features a strong female lead.
This last divergence may have been what stood out most for me. Heroines aren’t new in fantasy, but they’re still far from the norm. And Agnieszka, Uprooted’s peasant girl (and the novel’s narrator), is brave without seeming an idealized caricature. She still gets scared—as she is when the wizard claims her at the beginning of the book. She makes mistakes—as she does when, after growing into a witch under the wizard’s tutelage, she aids one of the realm’s princes in his misguided quest. She’s hopelessly messy. In short, she’s believable.
But Agnieszka’s also extraordinary. It’s her magic that leads the eventual struggle against the Wood, the malevolent forest that serves as the story’s villain. This isn’t a simple good versus evil dynamic, however. There’s a bit of that, but like most of the fantasy clichés Novik employs, she's altered it enough to make Uprooted feel original.
The book shares one other thing with the Temeraire series: it's a great read. And that’s really all you need to keep me coming back for more.
Dragons help, though.
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