Uprooted (Naomi Novik)

I...don't even know how to start talking about Uprooted. Okay, let's start here: I started reading this book. Then I finished reading this book. Then I immediately thumbed back a few chapters so that I could read the climax through the end one more time, because it was just so delicious. But it's not just the end of the book that was delicious. It's the whole. freaking. thing.

Naomi Novik is best known in these parts as the author of the Temeraire series (which can be generally summed up as Dragons! In the Napoleonic Wars!). (Bonus fun fact: I used to work with someone who went to high school with Novik, which makes us...two degrees apart?) Uprooted is her new foray into the world of high fantasy, and it is unbelievably fantastic.

Why is it so fantastic? Well, I'm very glad you asked. Let's start with the premise: Agnieszka lives in a quiet little valley ruled from afar by the mysterious Dragon, who picks a girl to come and live with him once every ten years. Agnieszka, of course, will not be picked. Everyone knows that the Dragon picks the special girls, the brave girls, and there's nothing particularly special about Agnieszka.

Sound familiar yet? (The answer you're looking for is, Well, yeah...? Aren't we talking Beauty and the Beast here?) Yes. True. But that's actually part of the genius of this book. You think you know where it's going, and then you don't. And then you (being the astute lots-of-high-fantasy reader you are), think to yourself, Aha! I saw that twist coming a mile away, you can't fool me! I was reading fairy tale retellings before you were BORN! Until it twists again. And again. And again.

Point being: I worried when I picked up Uprooted that it was a little too far up my alley, if you know what I mean. It just sounded so perfectly pitched as the kind of book I've been reading for, oh, the last fifteen years. Except that Novik takes all the familiarity of my beloved twisted fairy tale genre...and slants it some more until it becomes something both comforting and completely fresh. If you cut your teeth on Robin McKinley's Beauty, THIS BOOK IS FOR YOU. I can't emphasize this enough.

More specifically? I love Agnieszka's relationship with her best friend Kasia, and that this is the central relationship of the book. I love the subtle alternate universe feel of the book and the way it incorporated pseudo-historical Poland as well as the legends of Baba Yaga. I love the magic system and the way Agnieszka fights to find her place in it. I love that Novik pulls very few punches and is not afraid to spill some (okay, a lot of) blood. I love that I thought I knew where Agnieszka was going to get into trouble, and that it still hit in unexpected places. I love the world that Novik sets up, right up to and including what lies at the heart of the malevolent forest. Love love love love love.

Sure, I could say other things. But this book is one that just hit me right in the heart, and I'm happy to let it stay there. You know those books that seem like they were written just for you? Uprooted is one of those books for me. So, so glowingly recommended.