Uprooted may be the most perfect fantasy novel I have read since A Game of Thrones. Or maybe The Lord of the Rings.
Uprooted is a finalist for the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novel, and it has my vote.
Agnieszka is a girl from a village “which wasn’t the biggest village in the valley or the smallest, or the one nearest the Wood. . . . At seventeen [she] was still a too-skinny colt of a girl with big feet and tangled dirt-brown hair.” Most girls don’t have to worry about being picked because the Dragon “takes only a girl of seventeen, born between one October and the next” and he only takes a girl every ten years.
It’s not such a bad deal. The Dragon is their lord, but unlike a normal lord he doesn’t take a day of their labor, their sons for his army, or their harvest for taxes. He protects them, and he leaves them alone, which is all we ought to ask of any government, and far better than we can expect. Just a girl a decade and tribute and he defends them against the wonderfully malevolent, Tolkien-esque Wood. But he’s not beloved, because although “he wasn’t evil, . . . he was distant and terrible.”
But Agnieszka was born within that range—Dragon-born—and there are only eleven such girls in the whole valley, including Agnieszka. She is sure that it will be her best friend, not her, that gets picked, but, well, you can guess where it goes from there.
Uprooted is exactly the sort of book I love. It’s a fairy story, a fairy tale writ large (but not a deconstruction). Novik leaned heavily on Polish myth and folk tales in writing Uprooted, and it embues the story with a certain magic, even if the allusions pass over my head due to an ignorance of the source (ever better for it, really). That certain magic is why I think The Hobbit may be a better story than The Lord of the Rings, and why The Scar by Sergey and Marina Dyanchenko is one of my favorite books to come out in the last several years.
And it’s really, really beautifully written. I don’t remember any prose like this in the first three Temeraire books (I also remember the first three Temeraire books getting better as they went so I should probably return to the series now that it is complete). It has a poetry to it, a rhythmic quality. The writing in the rest of the book never matches the magical first chapter, but that chapter sets and mood in the reader that will carry them through the story.
The magic of Uprooted is more Tolkien or Martin than Jordan or Sanderson. Which is a ballsy choice when your first-person narrator is a magic-user. That it not only works but works exceedingly well would be the highest praise for Novik’s work, if Uprooted didn’t also succeed on equally high levels in almost every other facet.
There is much, much more I could say—about Agnieska (Nieshka), about the Dragon (Sarkan), about Kasia, about Marek, about the dark, disturbing Wood, about the capital—but to do so would spoil some of the magic. Read it, and read it now.