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Literature / Uprooted

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"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 lives at the edge of the wood, which as the quote above suggests is not the safest place. Her village, and others at the edge of the wood are protected by The Dragon, a wizard who - every ten years - picks a girl to serve him for the next ten years. They're sent back with money for their dowries, but none ever stay in the villages after.

This year, everyone is sure Agnieszka's best friend, Kasia is going to be picked. However, considering that Agnieszka is the Narrator... you can see where this is going.

The book is written by Naomi Novik, who is more famous for the long-running Temeraire series. Unlike that, this book is a standalone.

Ellen DeGeneres has purchased the rights to produce a feature-film adaptation. Naomi Novik has since written and published a Spiritual Successor, Spinning Silver which does not share a setting but does share theme and tone with Uprooted, this time tackling Rumpelstiltskin.



  • The Ace: Kasia is introduced as one, seemingly to prove a counterpart for the clumsy Agnieszka, because she's the prettiest, bravest, nicest girl in the whole village.
  • Achievements in Ignorance: This seems to be Agnieszka's hallmark. She uses a healing spell that the Dragon had long deemed useless to save him, does magic the way that "feels right" to great result, rescues Kasia from the Wood despite the supposed impossibility of doing so—and in the process reveals many facts about magic and the Wood that hadn't been known because all efforts were focused on containment.
  • Alpha Bitch: Primarily the young noblewoman who attaches herself to Agnieszka in the capital to mock her in the guise of friendship, but everyone else in her social group too. Agnieszka ends up feeling sorry for her—she's horrible, but she was raised that way and lives surrounded by people who turn on her the instant someone comes up with an interesting humiliation.
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  • And I Must Scream: People who are put into heart trees are fully aware and in horrific torment every moment of their imprisonment.
  • Attempted Rape: Prince Marek casually attempts to violate Agnieszka under the assumption he's cuckolding the Dragon. She notes that she might not have been unwilling if he'd asked. Instead, she used the Pimped-Out Dress spell to block him and then beat him half to death with a metal tray.
  • Awful Truth: One effect of The Summoning is to reveal all the secret, shameful feelings and desires of anyone casting it or having it cast on them. Agnieszka and Kasia both get to see the hidden jealousies, resentments, and fleeting hatred against each other, but their love is stronger.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Chimerae, and anyone who reads the Bestiary. Like poor Father Ballo.
  • Bedsheet Ladder: A variant. Agnieszka ties together all of her fancy vanastalem dresses to climb down from the tower when she sees Dvernik's distress beacon is burning.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: The Dragon and Agnieszka, naturally. They Do resolve it when the situation seems hopeless, now-or-never, let's do it before we die.
  • Big Bad: The Wood. Every single bad thing in the story barring its own creation happens at its design.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The Dragon has a couple of these moments, like saving Agnieszka and Kasia from Wood-corrupted wolves by teleporting into their village. Naturally, he's a rather badass wizard, so...
  • Broken Pedestal: Agnieszka is in awe of Prince Marek from all the songs and tales of his bravery and benevolence... and then he tries to rape her, simply because he thinks it'll piss off the Dragon. (Oh, and the story of his hydra-slaying? The hydra in question was one day old.)
    • Although the example of Father Bello shows that even very, very recently created monsters can be terrifying enemies.
    • On the other hand, it's rather strongly implied that the hydra was the last person who read the Bestiary, a harmless magical nerd before his transformation.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Arguably Agnieszka's, as she's forced to leave her childhood village and fantasies behind and faces challenges as a burgeoning adult and a witch, the latter of which she never even expected to become.
  • The Corruption: The Wood causes this with anyone it touches. Even breathing the air under its branches is enough to twist someone into a malevolent monster, and immediate action is needed to purge them of the taint.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Kasia is turned into a living wood statue. It makes her Nigh Invulnerable and an excellent combatant, which proves very useful in Agnieszka's ensuing adventures. But yes, it does wreck her marriage prospects somewhat.
  • David vs. Goliath: Marek does battle with Kasia at one point. The question of who is David remains open even after the fact.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The Dragon is far and away the snarkiest character in the book, mostly as he is Surrounded by Idiots a lot and hides behind a Jerkass Façade.
  • Death World: The Wood is a small-scale version. Living near it is dangerous, and actually wandering into it without considerable magical protection means death at best.
  • Deadly Book: The Bestiary changes people who read it too intently into what it describes.
  • Defensive Feint Trap: The Wood retaliates this way when it comes up against an unexpectedly strong foe (i.e. Agnieszka and the Dragon). Despite the massive casualties of the expedition, it allows them to take what's left of Hanna's body and uses it to ravage Polnya's government.
  • Divide and Conquer: Polnya and Rosya would be much better off if they stopped fighting and combined their forces against their mutual enemy, the Wood... so the Wood does subtle things to keep the conflict fresh. Having a Rosyan prince abduct Queen Hanna was the first move in its very long game.
  • Dying Race: The wood-people. The queen married a human king in hopes of revitalizing her race through their half-human, half-treeperson children. This failed badly.
  • Empty Shell: The Queen of Polnya. After twenty years in a heart tree, there is nothing left of her to show corruption, and the spirit of the Wood is able to use her body without detection because of it.
  • Establishing Character Moment: One of the first things the reader sees Prince Marek do is try and force himself onto Agnieszka. Not because he's attracted to her or even cares about her, but simply to try and insult the Dragon.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Prince Marek desperately wants to see his mother again... by any means necessary.
  • Evil Only Has to Win Once: The Wood spreads dozens of seeds of malice, which the wizards have to counter one at a time.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Polnya for Poland, Rosya for Russia. Namib for Namibia, judging by the name and Alosha's skin color. Alosha also mentions she has relatives in "Venezia", but that doesn't qualify as a "counterpart" because it's the actual Italian name for "Venice".
  • Freudian Excuse: Marek is a very nasty individual, but he never got over his mother being lost to the Wood when he was a boy.
  • Genius Loci: The Wood.
  • Gorgeous Garment Generation: The vanastalem spell. It becomes very useful.
  • Harmful to Minors: The royal children go through a major Trauma Conga Line.
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power: A spell that creates beautiful clothing may not seem very impressive, but it turns out it can be used to create Bedsheet Ladders, impress people, generate wealth, and even protect against attempted rape. It can even put “beauty” on someone’s soul to heal emotional trauma.
  • I Have Your Wife: Marek forces Dragon and Agnieszka to help his ill-advised mission to retrieve Queen Hanna from the Wood by threatening to have Kasia immediately executed if they don't.
  • Immortality Begins at 20: Wizards don't strictly live forever, but they do live for centuries with their only apparent age being in their eyes. Alosha says that Ballo lived in a monastery for forty years before he noticed he wasn't aging.
  • Iron Lady: Alosha, a swordswoman and blacksmith who forges magic weapons for Polyna, and the most level-headed mage in the capital—she is savvy to the political games but doesn't invest herself in them like the others. She's probably the most sensible person in the story, but also brutally pragmatic and she firmly believes that Kasia should have been killed long before now.
  • Karma Houdini: In his short-sighted scheming, Solya joins Marek's assault on Dragon's tower. It pits one half of Polnya's standing army against the other half and shatters the whole, with over 6,000 dead. It's pointed out that Solya's actions were entirely voluntary, not corruption, but he still limps back home to the capital with no punishment after briefly helping Agnieszka and Dragon in the aftermath.
  • Kill All Humans: The Wood's apparent goal. The humans sort of started it...
  • Kill It with Fire: The only way to deal with the Wood, although apparently salt water can keep it somewhat at bay too.
  • Language of Magic: Magic is worked through speaking various words and can be altered through mispronunciations.
  • Loose Lips: Agnieszka writes to Kasia's mother Wensa to say that Kasia has been successfully purified of the Wood and adds a postscript not to tell anyone. But the letter is read by a neighbor who is looking after Wensa. And she tells everyone. This leads to Marek riding up to the tower and using the information as leverage on Agnieszka and the Dragon.
  • Mage Tower: The tower that Dragon lives in. It's powerfully magical and left over from The Precursors.
  • Magic Music: Sort of. Agnieszka often sings her spells to folk melodies.
  • Mauve Shirt:
    • Marek brings thirty elite soldiers with him into the Wood, and several of them are given names or show personality. Two of them survive, and they're not the ones Agnieszka met.
    • Alluded to later when fighting breaks out at the tower. Agnieszka half wants to talk to all of the soldiers, knowing that each one has an individual story that brought them into the uniform, but she feels like it would be self-indulgent.
  • May–December Romance: Dragon has about a century on Agnieszka, but she dismisses this as an excuse. As they're wizard and witch, being left a widow isn't a concern.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Implied for any mage that falls for a non-mage but explicit in the case of Alosha, widowed for 160 years and having about 67 great-great grandchildren she keeps track of.
    "I've had lovers now and then, mostly soldiers. But once you've grown old enough, they're like flowers; you know the bloom will fade even as you put them in the glass."
  • Meaningful Name: The Dragon's name is eventually revealed to be Sarkan; sárkány is Hungarian for, appropriately enough, 'dragon'.
  • Meaningful Rename: At the end of their royal examination, most newly confirmed witches and wizards acquire a "wizard name" - the Dragon, the Splendid, the Willow, etc. - in a brief magical ceremony. It's considered significant that the protagonist's ceremony feels "off" to her, and she remains known as "Agnieszka of Dvernik".
  • Medieval European Fantasy: Specifically it's based around Polish folktales; Baba Jaga is mentioned several times.
  • Mutually Exclusive Magic: Some mages make use of mathematically precise incantations while the spells of others are organic affairs that rarely are the exact same thing twice in a row. When they work together the effects can prove far greater than the sum of the parts (Agnieszka describes it as a river driving a waterwheel) but teaching one another or learning from the wrong spellbooks are an exercise in frustration.
  • My Greatest Failure: The Dragon's is his failed attempt to cleanse Duchess Ludmilla's husband of the Wood. Not only did he fail to do it, his obsession with it caused another great mage, the Raven, to die in failed defense of a village and have a heart-tree planted in her. After that he voluntarily took over the tower and the fight with he Wood.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Agnieszka and the Dragon are essentially blackmailed into helping Prince Marek save his mother, Hanna, from a heart-tree; she's been trapped in there for 20 years. There's actually nothing left of Hanna in her body, and bringing her back to the capital allows the Wood to get a foothold in the castle and wreak all kinds of havoc.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Averted. The ancient, vengeful, brilliant consciousness that drove the Wood is at peace; united with her people. The toxic plants and mutant creatures in the Wood? Less aggressive for the most part; and far too many of the Heart Trees created from those dragged off over the centuries have enough pain, rage, and/or madness to remain repositories for The Corruption until either magically coaxed into peaceful dreaming or burned to ash.
  • No Pronunciation Guide: Averted in the case of Agnieszka, it's in the afterword. Played straight with Kasia, Jadwiga, and various other names, although familiarity with [[Useful Notes/Poland Polish orthography]] helps.
  • No Social Skills: Dragon is devoted to the welfare of the people on his lands, moreso than most nobles would be of peasants, but he doesn't care for them outside of their physical needs. He's also shocked when he learns that everyone assumes he's using the girls he takes as Sex Slaves because of his isolation from society. Not to mention the fact that uses indignation and verbal abuse to disguise any discomfort or awkwardness he might be feeling. A lot.
  • The Not-Love Interest: Kasia fills this role for Agnieszka — they're childhood friends, and a large fraction of the book's plot is about Agnieszka trying to rescue her, first from the Wood, and then from the laws which say that her life is forfeit because she was taken by the Wood.
  • Odd Friendship: Agnieszka and Kasia—the girl who is sure never to be chosen and the girl everyone knows will be chosen—are as close as sisters and love each other as much.
  • Parents as People: Kasia's mother Wensa. As it became clear from a young age that Kasia was the most likely future pick for the Dragon, Wensa sent Kasia on exhausting walks to other villages to become an expert baker, seamstress, etc, set her to frightening tasks to make her brave, and was careful not to love her because she'd be taken away. This makes things rather brittle when Kasia is not picked, but Wensa is still distraught and goes to the tower to beg Agnieszka's help when Kasia is taken. At the end, Kasia stays with the royal children, and her strained relationship with Wensa is a major reason why.
  • The Pigpen: Agnieszka. No matter how careful she is, her hair and clothes will always get snagged on branches, and she will always get mud or flour or some other kind of smudge on her clothing. She rates her time limit for neatness as twenty minutes. It's because of her magic. Everything around her wants to touch her, especially nature things.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Dragon uses magic to put Agnieszka in one of these every day because he finds her usual messy, homespun appearance offensive, until she finds the pre-existing wardrobe and learns how to use the spell to make more comfortable dresses.
  • Please Put Some Clothes On: Agnieszka rips off her dress when the corruption from her trip into the Woods is revealed by a spell. Once it's gone Dragon makes a cloak for her, but she's really more concerned about Kasia than being naked.
  • Poor Communication Kills: At no point during the initial several weeks of insults, chores, and strength-draining mystic rituals did the Dragon tell Agnieszka anything that could be construed as 'You are an untrained magician and I am instructing you.' Therefore, when she belatedly finds a note from one of her predecessors detailing what to expect (hint: not what she has been dealing with) she comes within moments of trying to assassinate him the next morning.
  • The Precursors: The civilization that built the tower. The building is about all that's left of them, as they were conquered by the Wood long ago. Speculation that they created it proves to be somewhat true.
  • Prince Charmless: Marek is the very physical and outward image of a noble prince, slaying hydras and whatnot and desperate to rescue his mother from the Wood. However, Agnieszka quickly learns that in practice he's a very unpleasant person, Freudian Excuse not withstanding.
  • Princeling Rivalry: Marek isn't too fond of his older brother Sigmund, who Marek describes as a "damned politician". Sigmund himself comes off as the more level-headed of the pair. Marek does show some feeling when Sigmund is killed in battle, however, saying that he didn't want to become heir like this.
  • Rags to Riches: Being discovered as a mage practically guarantees a career, even if you literally started in the gutter, like Dragon himself. Alosha's mother was a slave who Died In Childbirth, and Agnieszka is a woodcutter's daughter, albeit not actually destitute.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The Dragon is excellent at these and Agnieszka gets a lot of them when she first comes to the castle, especially thanks to her resentful attitude towards him.
  • The Resenter: Agnieszka towards The Dragon, as she's always assumed he would one day take her best friend from her. She is rather surprised when that doesn't happen the way she imagined.
  • Rewatch Bonus: The beginnning of the book reads rather differently when one is aware that the Dragon is a fundamentally shy man with outright negative interpersonal skills who recognizes Agnieszka as a budding witch who has to be properly trained and more importantly taken away from the Wood immediately.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Marek, a war hero, and Sigmund, a responsible and politically-minded man who will go into battle at need. Alosha says that she lives in Polyna because their monarchy is this sort—they are, by and large, competent rulers who care about their country.
  • Safety in Indifference: Alosha explains that after you've lived long enough, you learn not to love people. Also, Dragon, who has some commitment issues, and Wensa, because for seventeen years she thought her daughter will be taken from her.
  • Smug Snake: Solya, the Falcon, is an accomplished wizard and skilled in court politics, but he's too wrapped up in them and his envy of Dragon's greater skill to be clearsighted about the Wood's threat. Instead he swanks around trying to outmaneuver him and Agnieszka with disastrous results.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Toyed with. Beautiful girls born in October are subject to the Dragon's attention. Everyone assumes that the graceful and talented Kasia is going to be next, and that assumption shaped a lot of her upbringing.
  • Start of Darkness: The Wood was created by a tree-person who married a mortal king, betrayed and entombed by his followers on his death. When she escaped and found that her people had turned themselves fully into trees to avoid extinction, she got sad... then a pair of hapless woodcutters came along, and she got mad.
  • Taken for Granite: Dragon has a potion whose fumes do this, leaving the victim with no sense of time. Agnieszka accidentally gets caught by it in her first days at the tower. She later uses it on Jerzy in the hopes that they can someone purge him of the Wood at some future date rather than killing him, which turns out to have been a good call.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Agnieszka and the Dragon get together as their shared workings and her actions create greater intimacy between them.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Gawky, constantly unkempt Agnieszka running about in her brothers' castoffs and beautiful, multi-talented Kasia learning to serve a great noble were best friends since they could walk.
  • Tsundere: The Dragon. He's just as bad at admitting that he likes someone as he is at admitting that he has feelings other than irritation.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Kasia knows nothing about sword usage beyond 'swing sharp part at enemy.' Her strength and invulnerability means that is enough to make her nearly unstoppable in battle.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: A pair of innocent woodcutters who tried cutting down the heart tree of one of the Wood-queen's people. The queen's rage would not die for centuries.
  • Verbed Title
  • Warrior Prince: Marek is widely-known as a great hero for his battles against the Wood's creatures.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Prince Sigmund is introduced as a sensible, responsible man who would be well-suited to take the throne after his father is murdered. After the scene where he's introduced, the next we hear of him is that he's been killed in a Rosyan ambush.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The Wizard Ragostok is last seen in the attack on Sarkhan's tower. Perhaps he was killed by the Wood-Queen's attack, but he is never mentioned again.
  • When Trees Attack: The Wood. It is everyone's enemy. Occasionally it sends tree-like "walkers" to abduct people and imprison them in heart trees, but it does much more and worse. What's more, it's intelligent enough to create diversions and meddle in politics miles from its border.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: A question that troubles Agnieszka throughout the book. She hates the thought of watching her child nieces and nephews grow old and die, and their children, on and on. When she begins cleansing the Wood, she eventually decides she'll probably allow herself to become a tree when she has enough of life.
  • Wild Magic: The form of magic that Agnieszka generally uses, in contrast with the much more ritualistic, rigid magic that the other wizards use.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: The Wood is excellent at this, able to convert setbacks into advantages with terrifying ease.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: The women who leave the Dragon's tower never return home to stay. It could be the ten-year isolation with an immortal wizard of high nobility. It's also because after ten years, the magic they've absorbed from drinking in the Spindle's watershed has gone, and they can realize how unwise it is to live near the inhuman corruption that wants to kill everyone.

Example of: