Uprooted - Naomi Novik

Review for…

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows - everyone knows - that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn't, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose. Uprooted is a hugely imaginative, engrossing and vivid fantasy novel, inspired by folk and fairy tales by Naomi Novik, the author of the Temeraire series. It is perfect reading for fans of Robin Hobb and Trudi Canavan.

I could not stop reading, I stayed up until 3:45 in the morning. The traps laid were impressive. This book balanced the cost perfectly for the win. And even though it was so intense in the end, it helped ground the story in reality, like it felt real. I’m left reeling.

But let me backup for a minute.

Starting off with a fairytale tone but a charming polish-inspired setting, Uprooted is a retelling that I did not see coming. First of all, I couldn’t tell what it was a retelling of, because it’s quite different. Though you may see Beauty and the Beast right away, I felt so much changed that I still have trouble recognizing it. Though the inclusion of a rose is a clear homage.

Weeks later, and I can still feel the impact. I want everyone to read this, even though I feel like there’s something major lacking with or between the main characters, all in all it was refreshing and funny. But you know, I've decided that I don't need to be in love with romantic partners in stories anymore. I'm just too picky. As long as the romance feels right, if the people in it are well matched, it's good. If I wait to be swept off my feet by everyone who buckles a swash, I'll pass on books for ages. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t like the Dragon as a person, and only liked Agnes a little. Their story is great, and I was definitely rooting for them as they hurtled toward the ending.

Because the story really took precedence over character’s growth, though there is that, and over the romance. The world is so interesting it demands attention, the Woods will claw at you until you shiver in fear. Magic will seep out from the between the pages and infect you. It’s delightful. Agnieszka was a stalwart heroine, and I’m glad we got to see her mistakes and understand her foibles. She’s the opposite of pretentious and this comes through with her attire, her magic and even her name. Loved it.

I love this rare cover...
That isn’t to say that this was perfect. I liked how Novik handled the passing of time, it’s a skill I can’t seem to naturally employ. But like most writing that seems effortless, it probably took a ridiculous amount of work. However, the use of assault and the threat of rape always seems lazy to me. It did work rather perfectly in the story because of what Agnes does, and what that means for her arc, but I would have prefered to not. Novik tries to downplay it, but in a book of such enticing extremes it’s annoying and predictable.

Now, a moment about the Dragon. At first it irked me that we didn’t appear to get his name, but in passing we had actually learned it when the Prince came to visit: Sarkan means The Dragon. Huh. I’m also glad the Dragon asks about the rumors about him, even if he provides no acceptable answers at that time. In retrospect, it’s fascinating and so human.

Ah, did I say human? Here’s a vaguely spoilery bit of curmudgeonry from me. In that moment moment when the rose blooms, Novik’s insistence that the Dragon be the one who is upset, that he snaps at Agnes instead of apologizing, is frustrating. I’ve been thinking a lot about the blaming of women in romantic stories and this is so frustrating that she bears the fault when he’s the more experienced one. Even if he didn’t know that the intimacy of their magic would spark sexual tension, he might have at least recognized it, you know, being immortal and all. And yet, when I reread that small moment, I found that I understood his embarrassment at losing control better. It was another moment to bring him to earth and show that decades don’t iron out flaws. Still it felt like a wrong reaction for him to have, I felt he should have been at least slightly apologetic.

But! You might say, that’s not what he’s like! Hmm. Maybe it is so. I can still be irked by it.

But can I end this review of such a lovely book on a sour note? I really shouldn’t. I suspect that this book will become a favorite of mine. Recommended for fans of Howl’s Moving Castle who wanted a bit more blood and dark magic because that moment of sooty reality contrasted with his fine clothes reminded me of that Welsh wizard.

And, damn, if Agnieszka isn’t a great character to root for. I can’t wait for Novik’s next retelling.

Pages: 465
Year: May 19th 2015
Publisher: Del Rey

Read: 19 Dec 17 - 21 Dec 17
Stars: 4.5 (adored it)