It’s so tempting to get stuck in a particular pattern of reading, to follow a trail of books you like, that are fun, lighthearted, not too challenging; you can dip in and out of them easily because they don’t demand that much from you, but the flip side is that they don’t really give you anything either. For a while I was going through a series of flings with different ‘meh’ books. They distracted me for a few minutes before bed, but didn’t leave enough of an impact to creep in to my dreams. They were fine, but they didn’t push my mind in to new territory, or keep me up staring in to the darkness after the lights went out. That is until recently when I read Uprooted by Naomi Novik
This book was like a splash of cold water, it woke me up from my ‘safe’ reading slump. It wasn’t even that it’s one of my favorite reads, far from it actually, but it pushed me as a reader, and kept me thinking about the story long after I finished it.
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.
Naomi Novik’s writing style is undeniably part of the magic, so much so, that I found myself wishing the book had been written in verse, to allow her even more space to play with the dark beauty of her words. It’s lyrical and haunting, and paired with its eerie themes, Uprooted crawled under my skin. I was expecting a take on Howl’s Moving Castle, perhaps mixed with a Poison Study vibe, and while there were definitely elements from both of these stories, the relationship between Agnieszka and the Dragon/wizard in the tower took a backseat to the sinister, burgeoning corruption of the Wood. To be completely honest, I wasn’t prepared for the creepiness of this tale, how aggressively the sickness of the trees consumed the minds and bodies of any townsfolk who wandered too near. It really stayed with me. The main characters’ safety never felt guaranteed, keeping me constantly on my toes. Novik’s writing draws variedly from old folk tales and ballads, to Angela Carter‘s feminist fairy tale retellings. The result is a very shadowy, unexpected story arc, Novik doesn’t waste any energy pampering her reader, and while uncomfortable at first, it thrilled me by the end.
Even though Uprooted didn’t give me what I wanted (a center stage romance, a fast moving plot, quippy one-liners), or CORRECTION, rather the things I’d been conditioned to want after reading a slurry of such reads, it gave me what I needed: a book that led me to completely overhaul my TBR list in favor of provocative, uncommon stories (stay tuned for a post on this list!). Books that can offer me something new, challenging, and most of all will give me that delightfully terrifying feeling where I’m thrown in to an unfamiliar world with no guide other than the questionably trustworthy narrator on the page.
Books mentioned in this post:
If you’re interested in reading more about the “roots” of trees and forests in folklore and mythology, we recommend checking out The Forest in Folklore and Mythology by Alexander Porteous