I first came across Uprooted by Naomi Novik because it was one of the books that audible.com suggested that I might like based on my reviews and purchases. I was intrigued by the premise: a girl who doesn’t know that she has magic is taken by a man called the Dragon. It sounded interesting, so I put it on my audible wish list for later purchase. I come across so many intriguing stories that I don’t always purchase them immediately, unless I can buy the story for super cheap or borrow the book from a friend who doesn’t mind if it takes me a long time to return it. Months later I came across an article on FB that announced the winners of the 2016 Nebula Awards. For those of you who don’t know, the Nebula Award is a prestigious Science Fiction and Fantasy award that many authors hope to receive at least once in their career. When I saw that Uprooted by Naomi Novik won, I immediately purchased the audio and started listening to it.
I was not disappointed at all.
A WriterAlina Book Review
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Even though Uprooted is a story about a seventeen-year-old young woman, I wouldn’t categorize this as a typical young adult novel. In my opinion, this is a story for the more mature young adult audience for three reasons; the story isn’t heart-poundingly exciting; there isn’t a traditional love story; and the themes of the novel promote a more mature perspective. Personally, I would have loved this book as a teenager, but of course when I was a teen I was reading hard core SF/F like Lord of the Rings, Dune, Ender’s Game, and Mars by Ben Bova. I read more YA now than I ever did when I was a young adult.
Uprooted is a complex and subtle story about growing up, finding your place in the world, learning to follow your own nature, accepting change, and understanding and being who you are. The world of Uprooted is rich, the magical system well thought out, and the characters complex and contrary. The flow of the story takes a logical and inevitable path that surprises the reader if he’s willing to take the winding path instead of the straight one.
This summary was taken from goodreads.com
“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”
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.
The Story and It’s Delivery
Uprooted is told in Agnieszka’s first person perspective consistently throughout the story. I was surprised and awed by Ms. Novik’s ability to weave forward progressing plot elements with loads of world building and backstory at the beginning of this novel. The writer in me totally recognized the loads of setup that I was receiving as a reader, and yet it was so interesting and felt so relevant that I didn’t mind it. (I hope I can write so eloquently in the near future.)
Uprooted really benefits from the fact that it’s told solely in Agnieszka’s point-of-view because Agnieszka has her own perspective on what is happening to her and around her, and on why these things are happening. She proves to be a great unreliable narrator who misleads the reader until the character realizes what’s really going on around her. This may be a writing device, but I thought that it was executed well, creating various satisfying surprises throughout the story, especially at the beginning and at the end.
The story takes an interesting turn at the half-way point, and this seems to be where most readers tend to fall into one of two camps. The first camp is intrigued by the turn of events, wondering where the author is planning on taking Agnieszka next, and is ultimately happily satisfied with the results. The second camp quickly loses interest because the story slows a bit, and the magical quality of the first half of the book is tempered with the reality of the world that Agnieszka lives in. As a result, readers in the second camp either stop reading or are dissatisfied because of the lack of magical wonder that penetrated the first half of the book. (This opinion derived from reading the polar book reviews and adding a little bit of my own interpretation after finishing Uprooted.) I absolutely fall into the camp of Uprooted fans and am of the opinion that this novel is a deeply mature fantasy. Agnieszka truly grows up and refuses to become a jaded wizard/witch, and I admire her for that.
All of the characters in Uprooted were quite varied and felt believable. Agnieszka and Sarkan, the Dragon, couldn’t have been two more different magic wielders and the supporting cast may have included some of your more typical roles of warriors, thinkers, and beauties, but they were not necessarily used in the stereotypical ways.
Agnieszka is a sprightly girl who loves her village and the corrupted forest that surrounds her home. She is the type of person who does anything in her power for those she cares about. She’s also stubborn and naive of the world outside her village (something that doesn’t bother her much), and she knows magic on such an intuitive level that she doesn’t even realize that she’s magical. During the course of the story she realizes that she has a rare intuitive understanding of magic, and she gains confidence in her natural inclination to do things differently than has been done before. Agnieszka is belittled and put down at every turn but she fights for what she believes is right and is eventually rewarded for her pain and suffering.
My favorite character, besides Agnieszka herself, was her best friend Kasia, who is shown to be talented, beautiful, and courageous (she is the one that the Dragon was expected to choose as his maidservant). However, difficulties arise for Kasia after Agnieszka is chosen by the Dragon. Because of her positive traits various events happen in her life to make her wish to be different from who she is. She is changed in ways that are unexpected and she learns to still be happy with her life.
Novik uses the characters both against themselves and against each other. It’s all very exciting. Love, hate, admiration, and jealousy – everything is used to challenge not only Agnieszka but those around her as well.
What I loved best about the character development is that throughout the course of the book everyone changed either physically, emotionally, mentally, or in all three ways, and it didn’t matter what age they were: the characters still changed. Even the centuries-old wizards were forced to change as a result of events that occurred in the story.
The second part I loved was the relationship that Agnieszka and the Dragon share and develop. It starts out as a relationship between gruff teacher and student, one that could be very off-putting for many readers because Sarkan is impatient, demeaning, and uncommunicative. Agnieszka is an intuitive witch, who feels her way through the workings of spells, whereas Sarkan is more of an intellectual wizard, who practices magic by following precise, repetitive, and repeatable instructions. But eventually their relationship transforms into one of equals as the two magic wielders realize that their strengths and weaknesses complement each other.
Uprooted is primarily based on Polish folklore and takes advantage of the Polish language to create a world that many westerners are unfamiliar with. The world is painted with every action that Agnieszka takes. The beginning of the novel is heavy in setting up Agnieszka’s world — telling the reader about Agnieszka’s village and home, about the deal the villagers have with the Dragon, about the relationship Agnieszka has with Kasia, and about everyone’s expectation that Kasia will be chosen by the Dragon and be taken away. But once the setup is established and the choosing comes, every other scene is active, and the reader continues to learn new details either by Agnieszka’s actions (such as what she finds and does at Sarkan’s tower) or what she learns from observing those around her.
*** Potential Spoiler Alert ***
A Word Or Two About Uprooted’s Romance
There is only one part of the story that I found a little… strange. And that was the “romance” between Agnieszka and Sarkan. I actually liked the concept of their romance and I liked how it was slow and tentative on both side. I fell in love with the descriptions of them sharing their magic and how that made Agnieszka feel more intimate with Sarkan. It seemed to me that there was a strong sexual charge associated with sharing their magic. This isn’t what I found strange, in fact I really liked the idea of this aspect of using magic. The part that I found out of place was Agnieszka’s searching Sarkan out during the respite of a major battle to have intimate relations with him. I’m not at all squeamish about reading about sex, but it felt gratuitous and out of place. Did Agnieszka feel that this was the final battle and that she wanted to continue the human race or did she want to have the experience before she died? These are legitimate desires, but as the reader I wasn’t clear why Agnieszka chose to do this and at this time.
It is true that the scene was well-written and that it gave the reader a stronger insight into both Agnieszka’s and Sarkan’s characters, but afterward I was still left wondering why this scene had to happen. Is it because sex is part of the Romance “formula?” I certainly hope not.
I felt that the story would have done just as well had the scene been cut out of the story.
This was really my only gripe about Uprooted.
*** Potential Spoiler Alert Ended ***
I totally recommend Uprooted by Naomi Novik to anyone who enjoys a fantasy novel that is well-written, well-planned, though slightly meandering feeling, and seeping with folklore. The story is like walking down a winding path through a forest where you can’t really see too far ahead, but you have an idea of where you are going. The coming of age aspect of the story is very well-executed and mature, and is a good example for those who want the courage to live their truth.
Have you ever read Uprooted by Naomi Novik or any of her other novels? I hear her other series is about dragons, but I haven’t read any of them. After reading Uprooted I’m interested in reading some of Ms. Novik’s other novels. I would love to hear your thoughts about Uprooted, fantasy in general, or anything else you find interesting. Feel free to leave a comment below.
If you enjoyed this post maybe you’ll be interested in one of the following posts by WriterAlina: