Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Everyone expects beautiful and talented Kasia of the Valley close to the Wood to be chosen by the greatest wizard in the country and their lord, the Dragon, to become his new servant at his tower. He has always chosen the most beautiful and special of the girls born in the Dragon year for the past hundred years. The chosen girl comes to live and serve for ten years from their seventeenth year and is then let go back to her home with a dowry. But the girls never stay, they are somehow changed and go away without ever coming back again. So Kasia and best friend Agnieszka know that their time together is precious. Nieszka has never shown any likelihood of ever looking presentable to a lord; as if by magic, her clothes would tear and she would spill on herself without ever meaning to. Nevertheless, she is always the one who can find berries where no one else can, discover new flowers nobody has ever seen, and find her way through parts where no one else could go. Great things to know in the woods, if only the Wood next to the Valley had not been evil! People lost in the Wood would be lost forever and anything from the Wood is poisonous and if eaten would drive you mad and try to attack others. The Dragon has tried to keep the evil Wood at bay but it is always lurking and trying to spread its venom.

This is the shadow Kasia and Nieszka grow up in, and where they know they will be forever parted once the Dragon chooses Kasia at the festival and Nieszka stays behind. But something strange occurs and the Dragon chooses Nieszka over Kasia. Transported in a flash back to his tower, Nieszka is left alone with the Dragon and a million questions. Constantly afraid of him and what she is supposed to do, she discovers little by little that she has magic as well – to both her and the Dragon’s dismay. He wants discipline and ordeliness; Nieszka relies on intuition and organic livings. What has never worked for the Dragon, she manages to do to his absolute irritation and other things she simply refrain from doing. Both their tempers fly off the handles until they are forced to work together because the Wood has stroke again – by taking Kasia!

A story inspired by Russian and East-European fairytales and folklore, especially that of Baba Yaga, Uprooted by Naomi Novik is all the best of the old and clever workings of the new. At one time exotic yet familiar, the story of Nature’s magic and how connected we are to it makes the reader reminisce old folk and fairytales of their own countries. Every country has a magical tale of their particular Nature; ice mountains, giant seas, endless deserts, and deep dark woods. Something to challenge and overcome, and also to respect and learn from. The tale of belonging to a place and the challenges of friendship and loyalty echo all that we wish of a fairytale.

As in other fairytales, we have the traditional cast of the unlikely hero with magical powers, the old sage wizard, an evil supernatural power, and tests and quests to overcome. However, here they are all slightly changed and manage to surprice in their new ways. Novik’s description of magic was an absolute delight to read and you almost get the feeling that you could do that kind of magic yourself! To feel the magic running in your veins down to your fingertips and by just enough focus and consentrated power, you yourself could cast a spell. If anything and as strange as it sounds, the magic in Uprooted felt natural and logical at the same time.

The story and plot itself carries a great pace with enough passive chapters to make the world work and seem logic, and enough active chapters to make it a pageturner. The ride becomes wilder and wilder as the entire kingdom gets involved because of the Wood’s grasp and the conjoined powers of the Dragon and Nieszka, and the reader shares the agony of the characters, when the Wood’s poison is discovered and its source of power comes to light. You laugh at the fights between Nieszka and the Dragon and yet feel the mutual attraction as well.

But most of all, you feel a great satisfaction in visiting such a believable world of magic and how it reminds you of older fairytales and legends. This is definitely a story I will read again, and it has also inspired me to discover more about the Baba Yaga legend and other Slavic myths and fairytales.


Dansk:

Alle forventer, at Dragen udvælger den smukke og perfekte Kasia som sin ny tjenestepige. Dragen, som er den største troldmand i landet, tager nemlig altid den særligste af piger når hun er sytten og har hende til at tjene hos sig de næste ti år. Ingen tør sige noget imod ham da han er den eneste, som kan beskytte folket mod Skoven. Skoven emmer af ondskab og enhver der forvilder sig derind kommer ikke ud igen, og hvis de gør, er de blevet forgiftet af den og går amok med dens smitte af gift. Derfor har Kasia og Agnieszka holdt intenst sammen lige siden de opdagede, at det ville blive Kasia, som skulle væk for altid. For det vil nemlig blive for altid, da de tidligere udvalgte piger rejste væk når de ti år er gået. De er forandret og anderledes end resten af folkene i Dalen. Nieszka er hverken meget smuk eller særlig, undtagen med at kludre i ting og spilde ned af sit tøj. Ligegyldigt hvor meget hun passer på får hun hver gang en rift i sin kjole eller en plet på sin kind. Så der har aldrig været den store fare for at Dragen ville vælge hende som sin næste tjenestepige. Til gengæld har hun altid haft en evne til at samle bær hvor andre ikke kunne finde nogen og til at finde vej gennem den sikre del af Skoven hvor ingen andre kunne finde vej. Hvor Kasias mor har lært hende alt hvad hun skulle bruge som selskab for en lensherre, har Nieszkas mor ladet hende løbe frit i tryg vished om at hun havde hele livet til at lære.

Men der sker noget særligt og til alles overraskelse og Nieszkas rædsel vælger Dragen ikke Kasia til høstfesten, men vælger Nieszka og tager hende fluks med til sin bolig i tårnet. Hun bliver ladt helt alene med ham og må lære at klare sig mod hans luner og finde ud af hvad hun skal gøre. Lidt efter lidt går det dog op for hende hvorfor det blev hende og ikke Kasia: Nieszka har magiske evner! Dragen skal derfor undervise hende, men hvad der virker for ham dur ikke for hende og hun finder magi fra steder, som ifølge Dragen ikke skulle kunne lade sig gøre og de driver hinanden tæt på vanvid indtil de bliver nødt til at forene deres magiske kræfter – for Skoven har taget Kasia!

Baseret på gamle russiske og østeuropæiske folkeeventyr om specielt Baba Yaga, har Naomi Novik i Uprooted skrevet en medrivende fantasyroman hvor magien virker logisk og naturlig. Så naturlig, at man er på nippet til at tro, at man med øvelse selv ville kunne mærke den. Alle de genkendelige ting fra eventyr er med men i nye forklædninger og læseren er på samme tid konstant overrasket og alligevel i et velkendt land. Det giver et godt fundament og lader én drive med på den stadigt større kamp mod Skoven, som pludseligt involverer hele kongeriget og Skovens hjerte. Det er en fantastisk velskrevet fantasyhistorie og én, jeg bestemt vil læse igen og har inspireret mig til at ville finde og læse flere russiske og slaviske eventyr.

// Ann-Cathrine

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About Ann-Cathrine 38 Articles
Established 1987 in Aarhus, Denmark. MA degree in English and Art History from Aarhus University, Denmark. Loves books, art, writing, coffee, dandelions, paper dolls, and haute couture.