I've always loved a good fantasy novel. I grew up on books full of magic and wizards and strange creatures, so it was with no small sense of nostalgia that I suggested Uprooted by Naomi Novik for Forever Young Adult's September selection. I find the fall months lend themselves well to this sort of story and its selection was almost unanimous. (I think this was in part to the beautiful cover. Few people regret buying even a poorly written book when it looks that good sitting on a shelf.)
The story is set in a small village near the edge of the Wood, a dangerous place where evil and madness abounds. A mysterious wizard named the Dragon protects the village but at a high cost. Every ten years he selects a young woman from the village to serve him, keeping her there until it's time to choose another. Agnieszka is sure that he will select her beautiful and skilled friend, Kasia, but in a surprising turn of events, the Dragon selects Agnieszka instead.
This book is often marketed as a Beauty and the Beast retelling, but don't let that fool you. It is far more intricate than the original tale, and actually draws much more of its inspiration from Polish folklore. The world building was impeccable and we all agreed that one of our favorite aspects of the story was the way it described magic and the casting of spells. Uprooted definitely has some very unique spins on fantasy staples. Our main complaint with the story was that the romance in it was poorly developed, feeling mostly nonexistent until something sudden and dramatic happened. However, the other elements of the book were so compelling and nuanced it almost canceled out the need for a believable romance. Despite its awkward love story, Uprooted was still voted the best selection yet by several of our book club members, (myself included.)
If you're looking to be swept away and held on the edge of your seat by a magical world with powerful spells, terrifying sentient trees, and a stubborn and unlikely heroine, Uprooted is definitely one you should read. We highly recommend it.