Uprooted seems like a long fairy-tale at first. Not only because of the whole ‘Dragon wanting fair maidens’-stuff. The world seems easy and straightforward. Only to kingdoms are important for the plot: Polnya and Rosya (I see what you did there). Others are never mentioned. There’s a king who is more often referred to as ‘the king’ than by his name and we learn almost nothing about the court. Not exactly the scheming and intrigue you’d find in A Song of Ice and Fire.
The magic works also as easily as only fairy tales. Sure, spells to exhaust those casting them and there are limitations to what one can do with it but not nearly as much as you’d find in other fantasy novels. A wizzard can still turn himself into almost anything, let it rain or make things appear out of thin air with a simple spell.
So you read on and expect that, just like in fairy-tales, nothing truly bad will happen. And often it does look like the characters achieved a rather easy victory…but then things get worse. A lot worse. The slaughter in this book doesn’t have to hide behind A Song of Ice and Fire, but it doesn’t feel out-of-place. It’s more that ‘the stories behind the tales’ is a recurring theme in the book. Agnieszka learns the not very glorious events that inspired some of the tales of heroism and romance she heard growing up and later her own actions suffer from the same mystification.
The book is also notable because the main focus of it is the friendship between two girls. While there is also a hint of a (straight) romance it hasn’t as much impact. In fact removing the romance part of the story would change almost nothing, removing the friendship would change the whole story. Everything only happens because Agnieszka cares so much about Kasia and is willing to do everything for her, including risking her life more than once. Meanwhile Kasia isn’t a simple damsel in distress, her actions are also important. (And she becomes really good with swords which is always cool).
The book also features some truly magnificent and despicable villains. And while they have reasons for their actions that go far beyond being evil for evil’s sake it is never confused with excusing their behaviour. Especially one character makes sure that you never forget the hatred in-between any pity you might feel for him by constantly acting horrible.
Uprooted doesn’t re-invent the fantasy-genre or twist any tropes in an incredibly clever way but then it doesn’t need to. It is a simple fantasy-story with a great prose, an engaging plot and memorable characters.