Polish folklore retelling with a feminist spin
I’ve spoken before about the feminist fantasy book club I’m in, and this was our most recent set book. We’ve been trying to read more diverse types of stories than your everyday medieval fantasy, and recently we’ve all taken turns to nominate a book to read.
“Uprooted” by Naomi Novik is a fantasy novel about a young woman called Agnieszka who was born in a tribute year. Every ten years, the wizard known as the Dragon selects a teenage girl to serve him in the tower that overshadows their village. Known for being clumsy and grubby, Agnieszka fully expects her beautiful and graceful best friend Kasia to be selected. As no girl ever returns to the valley, the pair prepare to say their farewells to one another. However, when things don’t turn out as expected, Agnieszka’s fate is changed forever. Not one for following the rules, when the eerie forest begins encroaching on her village, Agnieszka takes it upon herself to challenge the ancient power that threatens the kingdom.
This is an enjoyable and well-written story that brings to life a folklore tradition that I was not familiar with. Agnieszka is a fun, earthy character who stubbornly does things her own way to the extreme exasperation of the Dragon. I really enjoyed the interplay between the two characters as Agnieszka learns about her abilities and her own method of self-expression. Even though she wasn’t the main character, I really liked Kasia who brought a surprising depth to the story and helped bridge Agnieszka’s understanding of two worlds.
There were probably two main things that frustrated me about the story. The first was that towards the end there was a lot of action, and it did feel a bit like the book was going from scene to scene of action without a lot of character development. The second was the romance. Agnieszka and her romantic interest are separated for a large proportion of the book, and I did feel like that made the development of that relationship feel a little rushed.
Anyway, this was a lovely retelling of region’s folklore that doesn’t often get much airtime, and a breath of fresh air in a genre dominated by dwarves and elves, vampires and werewolves. I think this would make a great holiday read.