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This is an ordinary review, as there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of social or political messages in Uprooted. It’s a young adult fantasy about a land called Polnya in the shadow of a poisoned wood. Agnieszka’s village is one of several protected by the Dragon, an old and powerful wizard who lives in a white tower at the base of the Western mountains. Every ten years, the Dragon chooses a young girl to serve as his domestic, and this year he chooses Agnieszka. This is a surprise choice, as everyone has been sure he would pick the beautiful and capable Kasia. At the tower, Agnieszka finds the Dragon to be cold and terrifying. Instead of expecting her to just cook and clean for him, he seems to be trying to teach her magic. In a system where young wizards are identified early and educated in the ways of magic, Agnieszka has somehow escaped notice, and now the Dragon Sarkan has found her. Her training is only brief, as things are changing in the kingdom. A group arrives from the capital, and Agnieszka is carried off to be tested by a board of wizards. They’re skeptical of her magic, which seems atypical, but her raw power eventually frightens them. The Wood is plotting to take the capital, so Agnieszka is called on to use her barely trained magic in a tense and frightening confrontation.

This is a story apparently based on Russian and Polish folklore, and under pressure, Agnieszka and her friend Kasia grow up fast from untested girls into strong and capable women. The story turns out to be darker than you’d expect, and the Dragon harder to crack. Agnieszka is an intrusion into his solitary world, and only makes a dent in it through the surprising power of her magic. On the negative side, it feels like several years are missing out of the middle of the book. It’s a little hard to believe that Agnieszka could be so effective as a wizard with so little training. Once in bed with the Dragon, she seems awfully experienced for such a young girl. The darkness and sexual content make this likely unsuitable for younger teens, but it’s still a well-constructed and entertaining coming-of-age story for girls. It’s a bit long for young adult, but well worth the read. Four stars.

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