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Uprooted (novel)

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AuthorNaomi Novik
Cover artistScott McKowen
Set inThe Middle Ages, in a land reminiscent of Poland
PublisherDel Rey
Publication placeUnited States
Media typePrint (hardcover)
Followed bySpinning Silver 

Uprooted is a 2015 high fantasy novel by Naomi Novik, based on Polish folklore. The story tells of a village girl, Agnieszka, who is selected by the local wizard for her unseen magical powers. Together they battle the Wood, a nearby forest, as it seeks to take over the land. The book has been warmly welcomed by critics and other fantasy authors, who have praised the portrayals of both Agnieszka and the Wood. It won the 2015 Nebula Award for Best Novel, the 2016 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, and the 2016 Mythopoeic Award in the category Adult Literature. It was a finalist for the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novel.



Agnieszka lives in the village of Dvernik in the kingdom of Polnya. Every ten years the local wizard ("the Dragon") collects one teenage girl as payment for protecting the local valley from the magical forest (the Wood) that borders it. Despite being born in a tribute year, Agnieszka does not fear being taken, as the Dragon only chooses the best and brightest girls and she is clumsy and slovenly – unlike her beautiful friend Kasia, who has been groomed to be selected. But the Dragon picks Agnieszka to take to his tower instead.

Through notes left by previous girls, Agnieszka gathers that her role is mostly household duties. But the reason for his choice is that she has magical abilities, and he starts teaching her simple spells. Agnieszka finds these acts of magic difficult and unnatural.

As part of his duties, the Dragon leaves to deal with a Chimera. In his absence, Agnieszka's village is attacked. Defying the Dragon, Agniezka escapes from the tower and returns to Dvernik, where she learns that wolves from the Wood have infected the cattle and a man. She successfully uses magic to help destroy the cattle, only for the wolves to return and to try to kill her and Kasia. The Dragon arrives and saves them, but is wounded. Agnieszka saves his life after she intuits a spell from one of the witch Jaga's notebooks, which the Dragon had thought useless. Recognizing that her powers differ from his, he reluctantly allows Agnieszka to teach herself Jaga's more intuitive magic.

Kasia is captured by creatures from the Wood. Knowing that no one returns from the Wood alive, the Dragon writes her off as dead. Agnieszka uses her magic to locate Kasia, half-entombed in a tree that is consuming her, and rescues her. However, the Wood has corrupted Kasia, and the Dragon tells Agnieszka that her friend must be killed. He agrees to put off the execution so that Agniezka can research a cure. When Agnieszka and the Dragon combine their magic in a summoning spell to see if there is anything of Kasia still left in her now immensely strong tree-body, they manage to free Kasia from the Wood's hold.

'Since you doubt me, take your men with you and go inside', the Dragon hissed back 'See for yourself'.
   'I will', Prince Marek said. 'And I'll take this witch-girl of yours, and your lovely peasant [Kasia] too.'
   'You'll take no one who doesn't wish to go', the Dragon said. 'Since you were a child, you've imagined yourself a hero out of legend—'
   'Better than a deliberate coward', the prince said, grinning at him with all his teeth, violence like a living thing in the room taking shape between them, and before the Dragon could answer, I blurted out 'What if we could weaken the Wood before we went in?' and they broke their locked gaze and looked at me, startled, where I stood.
Uprooted, chapter 13

News of Kasia's purification brings Prince Marek and his wizard, the Falcon, to the Dragon's tower. Once they realize that Kasia is no longer under the Wood's spell, they order the Dragon to retrieve the Prince's mother, who ran away twenty years earlier. They and thirty soldiers go into the Wood. Walkers and Mantises slaughter the troops, but the party frees the comatose Queen. The Dragon wants to destroy the weakened Wood once and for all, but the Prince takes his mother and Kasia back to court to prove they are free of the Wood's corruption. Agnieszka goes with them to testify. She gains certification as a witch, but things quickly go awry. The Queen speaks at her trial to blame Rosya, the rival state to Polnya. A wizard is transformed into a hideous creature which kills the King before being slain. The Queen manipulates her oldest son into going to war against Rosya, where he is killed; traitor soldiers murder the Crown Prince's wife, intending to kill his children as well. Instead, Agnieszka and Kasia grab the children and flee to the Dragon's tower. The Dragon has been joined by a baron and his soldiers. The Queen, Marek, and the Falcon arrive at the Dragon's tower and fight a battle. Just before the Queen can kill her grandchildren, Agnieszka sees in a vision that the Queen is inhabited by the Wood Queen. Kasia fails to kill the Queen.

Agnieszka convinces the Dragon to help her to defeat the forest once and for all. They try to burn the heart tree in which the Wood-Queen is entombed, but she defeats them and forces Agnieszka into a tree trunk. Agnieszka has a vision of the past where the Wood-Queen was part of a magical people who lived in the forest. The Wood Queen married a human king, but when he died his people turned on the wood people, causing them to become trees to protect themselves. After the humans failed to kill the Wood Queen, she returned to her people only to find that they had turned themselves into trees. The Wood-Queen was distraught with grief and hatred for what humans had done to her people. She began sealing human beings into heart-trees in an effort to protect her people and preserve what was left of them. The Wood's corruption came from hatred and misery. Agnieszka escapes the tree and tells the Wood-Queen to heal her sister's tree with her own body. She helps the Wood-Queen change into a tree, something that the Wood-Queen had not been able to achieve alone.

The Dragon doubts this will keep the forest in check. He goes to the Polnya court in Kralia to help free it of the corruption that has taken root there: Agnieszka suspects he is running from his feelings for her.

A year later Agnieszka has tamed the Walkers who now help her in burning corrupted trees and in planting new, good trees. At the local harvest, the Dragon returns to collect his taxes: Agnieszka knows he has returned for her.


  • Agnieszka, the protagonist
  • Kasia, Agnieszka's best friend
  • Prince Marek, a son of the King of Polnya
  • Sarkan, "The Dragon", the wizard residing in a tower near Agnieszka's village
  • Solya, "The Falcon", a wizard known for his "far sight" magic
  • Alosha, "The Sword", the warrior wizard
  • Father Ballo, "The Owl", the monk wizard
  • Ragostok, "The Splendid", the jeweller wizard (great-grandson of Alosha)
  • Queen Hanna, the Queen of Polnya, captured by the Wood 20 years ago
  • The Wood, an ancient forest


  • Polnya and Rosya, two rival kingdoms
  • Dvernik, the village where Agnieszka and Kasia live, near The Wood
  • The Wood, a doomed forest on the border of Polnya and Rosya, full of strange creatures
  • Porosna, a village lost in the wood
  • Kralia, the capital of Polnya
  • Dragon Tower, Sarkan's home, built over the ruins of an ancient civilization
  • The Spindle, a river that flows along the valley and disappears deep into The Wood

Publication history[edit]

Uprooted was published in 2015 by Del Rey Books in New York, and by Pan Books in London. It has been translated into Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, Polish, Spanish, Thai, and Ukrainian.[1] A limited edition of 750 copies, with illustrations by Donato Giancola, was published by Grim Oak Press of Seattle in 2018.[2] The edition contains 33 full-page monochrome plates, for a frontispiece and one illustration in each chapter.[3]

Scholarly and critical reception[edit]


Agnieszka tastes Polish-style zhurek, sour rye soup, served here in a bread bowl, in the final feast.

Uprooted is influenced by Polish folklore: Novik was brought up on Polish fairytales.[4][5][6] The protagonist's name references a story, Agnieszka Skrawek Nieba (Agnieszka Piece of Sky) by the Polish children's author and translator Natalia Gałczyńska [pl]; Novik specially liked the story as a child.[7] Baba Jaga is a common bogeyman in Slavic folklore, including in the Polish stories that Novik used to hear at bedtime.[4][8][9] The "birthday song about living a hundred years", to whose melody Agnieszka chants the spell which cures the Dragon of corruption, is the Polish birthday song Sto lat, meaning literally "[May you live] one hundred years".[10] The lyrics of another song quoted in the book, "about the spark on the hearth, telling its long stories", are a translation of a part of the Polish bedtime song Bajka iskierki [pl] (or, Z popielnika na Wojtusia) by Janina Porazińska [pl].[11] At the final feast, Agnieszka tastes zhurek, a phonetic spelling of an Eastern European sour rye soup known in Poland as żur or żurek.[12]

Critical reception[edit]

The author Amal El-Mohtar, reviewing the "sword-and-sorcery fantasy novel" for NPR, described it as "moving, heartbreaking, and thoroughly satisfying".[13] She comments that the book contains enough plot for at least three books, but manages never to feel rushed; she finds it "grounded and meticulous in its exploration of character and setting."[13] In her view Uprooted is "a triumph on several fronts", including its pace, setting, escalating tension, and especially the strong friendship between the "uncouth, coltish" Agnieszka and her opposite, the "gorgeous, skillful, brave" Kasia. The result is a "perfectly immersive" read that takes "classic fantasy stances", like the irritable male wizard in his tower, and somehow creates a fresh and vibrant text from these ingredients.[13]

Mac Rogers, in Slate, writes that Novik skilfully provides readers with "several modes of wish-fulfillment" through the book, including giving the protagonist Agnieska "the full Harry Potter/Katniss Everdeen experience", at once followed by a "Belle/Jane Eyre" setup in the "Dragon's" tower.[6] Like El-Mohtar, Rogers remarks that the book contains material for a whole trilogy, wishing that Novik had given Agnieszka the chance "to explore a few blind-alley identities" on the way to becoming a "latter-day Baba Yaga".[6]

Kate Nepveu, on Tor.com, writes that a reader of the first three chapters might expect the book to be a Beauty and the Beast tale, or a story of "intrinsically-gendered magic". Instead, it is "a kingdom-level fantasy with great magic and an engaging narrator—which packs a surprising amount of plot into its single volume."[14] She finds the wood a "wonderful" antagonist, commenting that the book describes "a series of increasingly-intense magical struggles as the Wood’s corrupting influence escalates and diversifies."[14] The effect is in her view exciting and suspenseful. She considers the use of standard fairy-tale elements like woods, wolves, princes, and lost queens both modern and cohesive, creating an "emotionally satisfying" novel.[14]

Catherine Mann, for the British Fantasy Society, calls Uprooted "an inventive and very enjoyable book" which speedily immerses the reader in its world. In her view, the story starts simply but grows steadily more complex, more imaginative, and more suspenseful. Mann likens the account of Agnieszka's "instinctive magic", very different from the codified approach of the court wizards, to that described by Diana Wynne Jones, calling this "a high compliment."[5]

Kallam Clay, in The Mercury News, writes that unlike her 8-volume Temeraire alternate history series, Uprooted is a traditional fantasy. He finds Agnieszka "a wonderful protagonist, far from perfect but tough and charming", describing Novik's handling of Agnieszka's voice as "pitch-perfect", so that her decisions emerge naturally from her character.[15]

Genevieve Valentine, reviewing the book in The New York Times, writes that the coming-of-age tale is a "messier" story, deeper than the "bright, forthright" and somewhat mythic teenage books that it might call to mind. In her view, Novik "skillfully takes the fairy-tale-turned-bildungsroman structure of her premise" and develops it into "a very enjoyable fantasy with the air of a modern classic."[16]

In 2015, Warner Bros. purchased the rights to make a movie adaptation of Uprooted and assigned Ellen DeGeneres to produce it.[17]


Uprooted won the 2015 Nebula Award for Best Novel,[18] the 2016 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel,[19] and the 2016 Mythopoeic Award in the category Adult Literature.[20] It was also a finalist for the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novel.[21]


  1. ^ Novik, Naomi. "Uprooted". WorldCat. Retrieved 13 November 2022.
  2. ^ Novik, Naomi (2018). Uprooted. Giancola, Donato (illus.). Seattle: Grim Oak Press. ISBN 978-1944145309.
  3. ^ "Publication: Uprooted". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 13 November 2022.
  4. ^ a b Shawl, Nisi (26 May 2015). "'Uprooted': the spellbinding power of truth". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 13 November 2022.
  5. ^ a b Mann, Catherine (2 February 2016). "Uprooted. Book Review". British Fantasy Society. Retrieved 12 November 2022.
  6. ^ a b c Rogers, Mac (4 June 2015). "In the Tower of the Dragon". Slate. Retrieved 12 November 2022.
  7. ^ Novik 2015, "Acknowledgements".
  8. ^ Johns, Andreas (1998). "Baba Yaga and the Russian Mother". The Slavic and East European Journal. 42 (1). American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages: 21–36. doi:10.2307/310050. JSTOR 310050.
  9. ^ Johns, Andreas (2004). Baba Yaga: The Ambiguous Mother and Witch of the Russian Folktale. New York: Peter Lang. ISBN 978-0-8204-6769-6.
  10. ^ "Sto Lat! - May you live a hundred years". Polish American Center. Retrieved 11 November 2022.
  11. ^ "Bajka iskierki". Cyfrowa Biblioteka Polskiej Piosenki. Retrieved 11 November 2022.
  12. ^ Thaker, Aruna; Barton, Arlene (2012). Multicultural Handbook of Food, Nutrition and Dietetics. John Wiley & Sons. p. 288. ISBN 978-1118350461.
  13. ^ a b c El-Mohtar, Amal (24 May 2015). "Friendship, Magic And Danger Blossom In 'Uprooted'". NPR. Retrieved 12 November 2022.
  14. ^ a b c Nepveu, Kate (10 June 2015). "Naomi Novik's Uprooted Isn't The Book I Expected — It's Better". Tor.com. Retrieved 12 November 2022.
  15. ^ Kallam, Clay (25 August 2015). "Worlds Beyond: Naomi Novik's 'Uprooted' will have readers rooted". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 13 November 2022.
  16. ^ Valentine, Genevieve (28 May 2015). "Science Fiction and Fantasy". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 November 2022.
  17. ^ Kit, Borys (8 June 2015). "Ellen DeGeneres to Produce Adaptation of Naomi Novik's Fantasy Novel 'Uprooted' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 13 November 2022.
  18. ^ "Nebula Awards 2015 Winners". Nebula Awards. 2015. Retrieved 13 November 2022.
  19. ^ "2016 Locus Awards Winners". Locus Online News. June 2016. Retrieved 13 November 2022.
  20. ^ "Mythopoeic Awards: 2016 Winners Announced". The Mythopoeic Society. Retrieved 13 November 2022.
  21. ^ "2016 Hugo Awards". TheHugoAwards.org. 29 December 2015. Retrieved 13 November 2022.