Desert Isle Keeper
When I saw Naomi Novik had a new fairytale style story out, I was intrigued. That’s not her usual milieu. Out of curiosity, I got Uprooted from the library. I am so glad I did! This is a terrific story, masterfully told. I’ll definitely be adding it to my collection of fairytale romances.
In a small village near a darkly enchanted, dangerous Wood lives a girl named Angnieszka. She is a dragon born girl – one of those unlucky enough to be born during the time that makes her eligible for the Dragon’s gleaning. If he should choose her, then she must go with him. It is not all bad. As she tells us at the start of her story:
Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.
So she won’t be eaten. And she is quite confident she won’t be picked. There is another girl in the village who is talented, brave and beautiful. She is also Agnieszka’s best friend. When the Dragon comes he always picks the “best” girl and so everyone is certain he will pick her friend. But when he comes and he finds Agnieska clutching her friend’s hand, he picks Agnieszka. Everything happens very quickly after that moment. Before she can get over her shock, say goodbye to her parents or do anything at all, the Dragon clutches her wrist and disappears her into thin air with him.
After having a good heave thanks to the Dragon’s chosen mode of transportation, Agnieszka somewhat settles into life at the Dragon’s tower. She hadn’t at all been prepared for it, so she doesn’t have the skills the average girl seems to come to the tower with. Initially, the Dragon finds her annoying, clumsy and rather stupid. But after she chooses the powerful magic book on his shelves for some light reading, he begins to reassess the situation. He had picked her because he knew she had magic. As he begins to train her he realizes there is quite a bit more to it than he had expected. But will their combined magic be enough to combat the increasing menace of the enchanted Wood?
It would be very easy (and truthful) to answer the question, “What did I love about this book?” with an enthusiastic “Everything!” I love the language Novik uses to tell her tale – it evokes the imagery and feel of a fairytale while at the same time providing a fuller, more grown-up feel to the story.
I loved the characters, especially Agnieszka. She is a simple village girl who loves her home, the quiet of her little town, the forests, rivers, meadows and glens that surround the area. Most especially she loves the people who make up her small world; her family and the men, women and children who make up her small community. It is this love of the simple life and simple things that make her magic especially effective within the malignant Wood. Hate and fear built it. Love, compassion and acceptance are needed to defeat it. She has all of these in spades. And I loved how her magic was simple but powerful. It was such a strong reflection of her character and just fit the story so beautifully.
I also loved the Dragon. He’s a bit enigmatic but the glimpses we get of his wit, intellect and the kindness buried beneath the crusty exterior were perfect. He’s a great match for Agnieszka.
Then there’s the story line’s examination of the relationship between parent and child. Agnieszka’s best friend, the girl everyone thought would be chosen, had been a bit harshly treated by her mother. The mother had done this to prepare the girl for her life in the tower but when she wasn’t chosen, the girl had some resentments. I thought that felt very true to life and liked the exploration of this. I especially loved that there wasn’t instant forgiveness.
I also enjoyed the prince’s story line. There was both love and greed behind his actions and I just adored how the story showed humanity is capable of mixing the good and bad to achieve a whole. Things are rarely all black or all white.
So, lots of love. If there was a flaw (there’s really not) it’s that the romance between the Dragon and Agnieszka wasn’t explored more. I can understand why, given the story being told, but it would have been nice to have. Still, that touching scene at the end sort of makes up for it.
If you are a fan of fairy tale fantasy you are going to want to buy this book. Right now. I just can’t recommend it enough.