Review of Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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As a solid fan of Novik’s awesome Temeraire series – see my review of Victory of Eagles hereuprooted – I was shaken to realise that I somehow managed to miss her latest offering, Uprooted. But after regularly seeing it recommended across the book blogs I visit, I vowed to get hold of it as part of my 2016 Reading List, especially as it was short-listed for the 2015 Nebula Best Novel award.

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.
This character bounces off the page. I loved the depiction of her life in the isolated village where she lives and the casual manner in which she mentions the disappearances and horrific transformations of people she knows. The first person narrative works extremely well and Novik is very deft as depicting the world through the eyes of her charismatic and quirky protagonist. However, that doesn’t mean there is any undue hanging around with pages of scene setting, as Novik whisks us up into the narrative at a fair clip.

I found myself reading during the day to discover what happens next – thus breaking one of my rules. But there was no point in trying to immerse myself in my own editing, as my head was too full of Agnieszka and her story. Not wanting to encroach into Spoiler territory, I am not going to discuss any details of the narrative, but the magic system works well, with structure and rules that have consequences.

What I particularly liked about this tale, is the depiction of the antagonist. As the books progresses, we realise there is more than a single version of why the Wood is very hostile to humanity. Having read several books recently where the finale was compromised by the thin characterisation of the antagonist, it was a delight to have such an intelligent approach to the story resolution. A great end to a fabulous, entertaining read.
10/10

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9 responses »

  1. Yay! I’m so glad you enjoyed Uprooted. 😀 I also thought the Wood made for an interesting antagonist, a poisonous twist on the “enchanted forest” trope. It was very well done.

    What did you think of Sarkan / the Dragon, btw?

  2. Thank you for writing the names the Polish way! I really appreciate it, because “Nieshka” (it wouldn’t even be “Nieszka” in Polish, but I better not rant) and few other things drove me insane while I was reading the book.
    I guess the biggest issue I had with it, is the claim to be rooted in the Polish legends and tales – which it hardly is. It spoiled the book for me a bit (I’d rather to see it as fantasy without claims to be “Polish”), but I enjoyed it nevertheless. 🙂

    • Ah… it’s always a tricky one, when a book stays into cultural territory – and then doesn’t get it right. I’m guessing she was brought up on stories that got altered in the telling and retelling over the years. But I can completely understand your fruatration when reading it.

      • It’s not even how they were altered, it’s lack of basic research that got me. “Agnieszka”, when called by friends or family, is “Aga”, “Agunia”, “Agusia”, but never “Nieszka”. I think one of the characters was called “Mareczek”, while the actual name is “Marek” (it left an impression similar to Queen Victoria being called “Queenie Vickie”).
        The rest, except for Yaga, Poland and Russia’s changed names, and few scarce names of food and clothing, it has *NOTHING* to do with Polish culture and history or folk tales.
        And the one story she mentions at the end, is not a Polish folk tale, it was written in 20th century, and is not even a widely known tale in Poland.
        Ooops, I’m ranting again, sorry. I guess my main problem with the book is that it was advertised as based on Polish culture and folklore. It’s based on a story written by a Polish writer, and that’s pretty much it.

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