Young Adult Romance and Fantasy
“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.”
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.
The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.Goodreads Overview
Toxic, Confusing, and Trite
I dislike writing scathing reviews of books, partially because I know there will be readers who won’t like what I have to say. However, there are some books I can’t support even through my silence. Naomi Novik’s Uprooted is one of those books. I looked through Goodreads’ reviews for half an hour and realized most of the readers were female. Also, most of these readers gave this book 5/5 stars. I’ve concluded our culture has a twisted and toxic view of love.
Any good story has the same primary parts; dynamic characters, an immersive setting, an alluring plot, a relevant conflict, and a profound resolution. Uprooted had an appealing setting. I decided to read Uprooted in the first place because I love stories about mysterious forests and castles. The plot started well but became Hodge-podged by hard-to-follow pacing and prose. The central conflict . . . what was it again? I don’t remember. That’s a bad sign. The story’s resolution fell flat because of how angry I was with the characters. In fact, I was just glad the book was over. If the forest had eaten the protaganists, it would have been all the same to me.
Uprooted was hard to follow. Novik had trouble balancing her character’s development and her magic system with her narrative. Actually, I don’t think I ever fully understood how the magic system worked. The story’s fundamental premise focused on a girl, taken against her will to a castle to face a mysterious fate. As intriguing as this idea is, it lost all flavor because of the confusing final arc in the forest and the forced romance.
It’s been a few years, but I still remember how horrified I felt while reading this book. It is one thing to have characters that are boring or wooden. It is a whole other thing altogether if authors use these types of characters to promote potentially dangerous portrayals of relationships. The central relationship between the ‘dragon’ and heroine Agnieszka is one of the worst examples of toxic attraction I’ve been unfortunate enough to read.
Let me clear, how the Dragon treats Agnieszka is horrendous. He was constantly angry and annoyed at her for no reason. He verbally abuses her from the moment he meets her, calling her an astonishing amount of cruel names. He physically abuses her in his lessons during sudden spurts of anger. He mocks how she looks, calling her ‘horse-faced’ and ‘dirty,’ and makes her change her appearance to conform to his tastes. When Agnieszka defends herself when a prince attempts to rape her, he screams at her, asserting her virtue is not worth the price of an angered prince.
I could talk about the moments he works her till she is emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted, or the many times she breaks down in tears because of things he’s said or done to her. I could also talk about how terrified she was in the first half of the book because she thought he would rape her. He never apologizes. He barely gets better. Not to mention, he starts a sexual relationship with her near the end of the book when he is almost 130 years older than her. This relationship is acceptable because he looks young and handsome. Just thinking about this book’s ridiculous and pernicious “love” story is making me angry. So I’ll stop.
The real issue is some readers buy that this is a romantic and healthy love story. It’s not. It’s incredibly dangerous. Those who have suffered through abusive situations similar to those illustrated in this book wouldn’t find this story so sensational.
The other characters don’t have enough meat to their personalities for me to mention them. I think her friend got trapped in a tree, but I’m not sure why. I was really confused when I read that part.
Who is this book for?
Apparently, this book is a romance novel fit for young adults. It’s not. However, readers who enjoyed books like Mercedes Lackey’s The Black Swan might like this book. Beyond that, I don’t have the heart to recommend a story that I hate so passionately.
Examples of Abusive Behavior Directly From the Book
He was irritated with me every time I came into his library, even on the few days that I managed to keep myself in good order: as though I were coming to annoy and interrupt him, instead of him tormenting and using me. And when he had finished working his magic through me and left me crumpled on the floor, he would scowl down at me and call me useless.
I froze in surprise and stopped reading, my mouth hanging open. He was furiously angry: his eyes were glittering and terrible…
He gaped at me and grew even more wildly angry; he stormed across the tiny chamber, while I belatedly tried to scramble up and back, but there was nowhere for me to go. He was on me in an instant, thrusting me flat down against my pillows.
“So,” he said, silkily, his hand pressed down upon my collarbone, pinning me easily to the bed. It felt as though my heart was thumping back and forth between my breastbone and my back…
“Agnieszka,” he murmured, bending low towards me, and I realised he meant to kiss me. I was terrified, and yet half-wanting him to do it and have it over with, so I wouldn’t have to be so afraid, and then he didn’t at all. “Tell me, dear Agnieszka, where are you really from? Did the Falcon send you? Or perhaps even the king himself?”
“Don’t dare lie to me!” he hissed. “I will tear the truth out of your throat-” his fingers were resting on my neck; his leg was on the bed, between mine.”
…I saw the tray discarded on the floor, the knife lying bare and gleaming. Oh. Oh, what a fool I’d been, even to think about it. He was my lord: if by some horrible chance I had killed him, I would surely be put to death for it, and like as not my parents along with me. Murder was no escape at all; better to just throw myself out the window.
I even turned and looked out the window, miserably…
He roared at me furiously for ten minutes after he finally managed to put out the sulky and determined fire, calling me a witless muttonheaded spawn of pig farmers – “My father’s a woodcutter,” I said – “Of axe-swinging lummocks!” he snarled. But even so, I wasn’t afraid anymore. He only spluttered himself into exhaustion and then sent me away, and I didn’t mind his shouting at all, now that I knew there were no teeth in it to rend me.
I was almost sorry not to be better, for now I could tell his frustration was that of the lover of beauty and perfection. He hadn’t wanted a student, but, having been saddled with me, he wanted to make a great and skillful witch of me, to teach me his art…
It maddened him to no end, not without some justice. I know I was being foolish.
Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.