Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik is the well-known author of the Temeraire series, which I began to read a while back, until it grew so unremittingly grim that I just couldn't depress myself any further by continuing, somewhat like Martin's Game of Thrones, or Hobbs' Rain Wilds, or come to think of it, just about anything Hobbs has written (I'm paused in the middle of her latest series, because I'm scared to find out what happens when the hammer falls on our old friend, Fitz, the retired assassin).

Uprooted is a stand alone tribute to some of the Russian mythology, like Baba Jaga, that takes place in a kingdom which has been threatened for centuries by The Wood, which is slowly taking over the world, and which corrupts anyone who is caught within it. Agnieszka is the daughter of a woodcutter who lives in a village, Dvernik, all too close to the wood. Their village is protected by an apparently immortal sorcerer called The Dragon, who takes tribute from the villagers and also a "sacrifice" of one selected virgin girl each decade. The Dragon doesn't kill them, but takes them away to his tower, not to be seen again until the end of their ten year term, at which time they are no longer comfortable in their old village, and inevitably leave for the bright lights of t he big city.

Everyone knows that this year's sacrifice will be Kasia, the most beautiful and poised girl in the village, who is Agnieszka's best friend. Agnieszka isn't beautiful, clever, nor graceful, and she feels guilty that she's glad her friend will be taken away rather than her, but...

Of course, the Dragon picks Agnieszka instead of Kasia, and whisks her away to his tower, where he is constantly aggravated by her inability to remain neat and tidy, and in fact seems to have a vast hidden talent for ending up dusty, dirty, muddy and bedraggled at any time. However, quite by accident he and our heroine discover that she has a talent for magic, quite unlike his own well-disciplined magic, but powerful in its own way.

When Dvernik is attacked and Kasia is captured, taken into The Wood and sealed inside the heart of a tree while the Dragon is occupied with more pressing matters elsewhere, Agnieszka takes it upon herself to travel back to the village, partially thwart the attack, and rescue Kasia. When she and the Dragon purge all of the corruption of The Wood from Kasia's soul, it sets into motion a chain of events that shakes the kingdom to its core and the stage is set for an epic battle with an ancient and implacable foe.

Really a great stand-alone novel by Novik!

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