It’s difficult to love a girl born in a Dragon year – there is always the possibility that she will be chosen by the Dragon and, even if she returns, she will be a different person than the girl you knew.
Every ten years the Dragon comes to the valley to claim a girl to come and live with him in his tower. He isn’t a real dragon of course, but a powerful wizard, tasked with keeping the valley safe from attack and in tribute, every ten years a new girl is given to the Dragon. What happens to those girls is not clear, just that when (if) she comes back she is much changed and soon leaves again to live in one of the distant cities or universities.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik is about Agnieszka, unexpectedly chosen by the Dragon over the beautiful and clever Kasia. Terrified and homesick, Agnieszka must find her role in the Dragon’s life; he is curt and circumspect with her, but never harms her. It is only by accident that she finds that she is to learn magic from the great wizard but magic comes to Agnieszka reluctantly and she struggles to learn the simplest spells. The Dragon is deeply annoyed with her and Agnieszka is miserable until one day she comes across an ancient book in the Dragon’s vast library. The Dragon dismisses the spells in the book as impossible but they come easily to Agnieszka and suddenly the world of magic opens to her. When the valley is suddenly attacked, Agnieszka and the Dragon must combine their magic to save their people and their valley.
Full of action and vivid descriptions, Uprooted grabs you right away and doesn’t let go. Agnieszka is sympathetic and relatable without becoming saccharine and while her magic is powerful, it is her gritty courage and unshakable love and loyalty that save the day. I especially love the way the magic is described, not as a tool to be thrown but as a living creature to be coaxed and encouraged or how her magic and the Dragon’s compliment the other and intertwine to become more powerful.
Mostly though, Uprooted is about finding your own strength, learning to trust yourself, believing in the power of love and finding magic in the unexpected. Highly recommended.