I’ve spent almost my entire life pursuing fairy tales, and fairy tale retellings. I love the most famous, from Sleeping Beauty to the Little Mermaid; I love the lesser-knowns, like Snow White and Rose Red, the Snow Queen, and East of the Sun, West of the Moon. And I love the ones that no one else really talks about, like Donkeyskin. Oscar Wilde has a fantastic collection of tales, as does Herman Hesse. I love Scandinavian fairy tales, German fairy tales, Irish fairy tales, etc. If it’s the kind of story that used to be told around a family fire, then I love it.
I am always on the look-out for more fairy tales (seriously, if you can think of any, comment on this post!), so when I had the chance to read Naomi Novik’s Uprooted before it came out (I know it’s out already, this was several months ago), I took it. Then I sat down and gobbled up the entire book in one sitting, in exactly the same manner that a greedy little kid eats a bowl of ice cream.
It was delicious.
Like all good fairy tales, it includes a Call to Adventure; namely, Agnieszka is chosen in a ritual enacted by the mysterious wizard they call the dragon, even though everyone in the village thought another girl was meant to be chosen. She is taken away from her friends and family, and lives in a dark old tower with a man who shouts at her, forces her to work on magic, and seems generally very grumpy at having her there. Here at the beginning, there are echoes of Beauty and the Beast between Agnieszka and her dragon. She has some prejudices, like what does he do with the women he takes from the village every ten years? (The answer is a shocker) The story unfolds with a hazy, dreamy quality that suits the kind of story it is trying to tell.
Novik has an excellent style, and her pacing is terrific. I never once got bored with Agnieszka’s story – there was no time to. Novik did not waste a single scene, yet maintained the fairy tale style.
It is not a direct retelling of anything. Agnieszka is her own self, not an avatar of some other fairy tale girl whose story I know like the back of my hand. At the most there are echoes, like the scenes that evoke Beauty and the Beast. Baba Yaga is a character, but this is not at all a traditional Baba Yaga story. The woods of this book are as frightening as the woods Hansel and Gretel got lost in. It is as though Novik used the basic ingredients of her beloved Polish fairy tales, and combined them to create something new and beautiful.
I am dying for more books set in this same world, with different characters taking the lead. There is so much she left open, so much she could do with it. What’d the greedy little kid who finished his bowl of ice cream say? “More, please.”
Uprooted by Naomi Novik was published by Del Ray on May 19th 2015.