Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

"You could shout truth into the air forever, and spend your life doing it, if someone didn’t come and listen..."

The kingdom of Polnya has always been plagued by the Wood. The Wood is full of dangerous creatures. It can take a person and contaminate them. It forces them to go mad and to kill. It plants seeds inside people, and as those seeds sprout, the Wood grows further.

Nieshka’s small village is under protection of the Dragon. He isn’t actually a dragon, but a powerful wizard who oversees a group of villages near his tower. Every ten years, the villages offer the young ladies who have come of age. The Dragon chooses one girl to stay in his tower for ten years. Nobody knows what happens in the tower, but the girls always come back changed. They always end up leaving their village.

This year, Nieshka is one of the girls. She isn’t concerned about being chosen because everyone knows he will pick Kasia. Kasia is Nieshka’s best friend. She is the prettiest, the cleverest, and the bravest. If anyone was a fairy tale heroine, it’s Kasia. Nieshka is somewhat gawky in appearance, and has an uncanny ability to attract dirt and tears to her clothing. Therefore, it comes as a great surprise that the Dragon picks Nieshka.

Nieshka’s stay at the tower is something of a disaster. She busies herself cooking and cleaning for the Dragon, who mostly grumbles and insults her. Things change when he gets her to recite a spell with him. Days go by with Nieshka cooking breakfast, the Dragon forcing her to perform spells, and her collapsing in exhaustion.

Everything changes when the Dragon must travel to the capital to help with a monster situation. All alone, Nieshka is supposed to basically sit still and not touch anything. When her village sends up a signal for help, she escapes the tower to save her loved ones.

A pack of wolves from the Wood attacked some cows. These cows became infected, fierce and insane. The farmer hadn’t killed them in time, so the cows spread the disease to more cows, and then the farmer. Nieshka does her best to help with the potions she took, though she ends up angering the Dragon. She also saves his life after he is bitten by a wolf, so it balances out. This situation also makes him realize that Nieshka is inclined towards healing magic, and she finds a spell book that she can understand. She learns how to work through spells in a way she can understand. 

The next big event occurs when a walker (I picture them like Groot, though they are meaner) abducts Kasia. Despite Dragon’s objections, Nieshka must enter the Wood and rescue her friend. Taking her out of the hearttree (Powerful trees that feed from the person and give power to the Wood) is only the first step. Kasia might never be herself again, and Dragon tries to convince Nieshka that killing her is the most humane thing to do. Of course, Nieshka refuses, and begs Dragon to give her time to save Kasia. Eventually, months later, they succeed in driving the Wood out of Nieshka's friend. 

Their feat doesn’t go unnoticed. Rumors have reached the palace that the Dragon has been harboring a contaminated girl, and that he cured her. Decades ago, Queen Hanna ran off with the crown prince of rival kingdom Rosya. They went off into the woods, never to be seen again. The kingdoms have been at war ever since. Prince Marek, the spare and celebrated hero, wants the Dragon to help rescue and cure his mother.

The Dragon refuses this mission, knowing how hopeless it is and how unlikely any of the Queen is left to rescue. Nieshka would refuse as well, but Marek and his pet wizard Falcon threaten to have Kasia killed. So Nieshka is on board, Dragon goes to help her, and Kasia goes because she is a loyal friend. Their trip through the Wood is action-packed. Soldiers and horses drop like flies, they are attacked by Walkers and giant praying mantises, and it turns out that getting out of the Wood is only half the battle. The situation ends up being much worse than anyone expected, and there's lots more death and destruction to come before the end. 

I heard really good things about Uprooted, so I was excited to read it. At first I was a little nervous. I wondered if the entire book was going to be the Dragon insulting Nieshka. It gets a lot better, obviously (and thankfully). The book was completely terrifying at times, and I think it gave me a very frightening nightmare. It was too easy to become absorbed in the book's world, and I both wanted to hurry up and finish it and also take my time and keep reading forever. What was the complete icing on the cake, Uprooted had an incredibly satisfying ending. It made me so very happy. All the recommendations for Uprooted.