Book Review : Uprooted
By Naomi Novik
“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. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)
Adult Point of View
I was excited to try a new author and see how a Polish fairy tale inspiration would work.
In a fantasy novel I love to see intriguing ideas, a new way of looking at the world and a cast of characters that are both endearing and overcome challenges. Uprooted has all of these elements, yet I felt something was missing…
The Dragon is a taciturn sorcerer. His motives were misunderstood, he was continually grumpy and he loved the engineered details of a spell. When faced with magic he could not understand he would lash out at his apprentice. He is, in fact, overtly rude to Agnieszka. An analogy could be drawn between the Dragon and the Beast, from Beauty and the Beast, both are churlish and are eventually charmed by the young woman residing in their stone fortress. I quite liked the Dragon at moments, but I never felt much chemistry between him and Agnieszka. I had hoped to see more change in the Dragon.
Agnieszka is fiercely loyal to Kasia, loves her homeland and is continually messy. Sometimes she mopes about, complains and gripes, but eventually she finds her inner strength to do the things she must for survival. Her character reminds me of the women from Anne McCaffrey’s writing in the 1980’s. Agnieszka is endearing because of her flaws, but she doesn’t feel new as a character. I enjoyed the contrast of the spell work that was effective for Agnieszka compared to the Dragon.
Kasia is a secondary character and her personality is not fully developed. Some might say she feels a bit wooden or even petrified from her experiences within the wood.
The wood has traditional connotations that it is the mysterious place of evil. Horrific monsters lurk within the wood and those touched by the wood are forever changed. Those who survive the wood have lost their innocence and they consequently spread the corrupt nature of the wood to those they touch. The wood, as a semi-sentient force, desires to swallow civilization.
So, what was missing? Who is the intended audience? Originally I felt it was written for a young adult audience because of the simplistic writing style – I was wrong. It is fairly straight-forward in the writing even though the concepts behind the writing are complex. I’m more forgiving of simplicity in a book written for a young adult audience, and expect a slightly more predictable plot, though love it when I’m surprised by twists.
Here are some samples of the writing:
“The moon was high that night, full and beautiful, blue light on the shining snow all around. I opened Jaga’s book as we flew, and found a spell for the quickening of feet. I sang it softly to the horses, their ears pricking back to listen to me, and the wind of our passage grew muffled and thick, pressing hard on my cheeks and blurring my sight.” (p. 102)
“I turned the pages with a finger and a thumb, holding them by the lower corner only. It was a bestiary, a strange one full of monsters and chimaeras. Not all of them were even real.” (p.275)
Here is a short sample from The Shock of Night by Patrick W. Carr:
“‘Lord Dura. I wondered when you would return to us.’ The subtle note of disapproval in his voice drifted to my ears as if he had to bribe the air to carry it to me.” P. 24)
Contrasting these two authors shows how Novik’s style is straight forward and unembellished. Novik doesn’t use similes or metaphors.
In the past, books for young adults were free from gratuitous violence. I still hope to see books without extreme violence, but even current children’s novels are more violent than books written 20 years ago. Uprooted has some violence, but nothing more extreme than other young adult books, which still led me to believe it could fit into the young adult audience.
Finally, here was the big clue that this was not written for a young adult audience – it includes two intimate scenes that soundly place Uprooted into a category for adults. The first scene doesn’t move beyond passionate kissing with a few articles of clothing tossed aside. The second scene, surprisingly, became a full on description of sex. I was very surprised because these two moments of passion were so out of context with the rest of the writing, the characters and the flow of the plot. I never felt like the Sorcerer connected with anyone on a human level.
More than what was missing, it was a question of inconsistency that has brought my review down to 2.5 stars. I didn’t lower it more because Uprooted had some fun ideas. Readers just need to know in advance it was written for an adult audience though much of it reads like a young adult novel. I can’t really recommended this book.
2.5 out of 5 stars
Other (young adult) fantasy books I recommend include :
The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima
Serphina by Rachel Hartman
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
The Raven Ring by Patricia C. Wrede
The Queen’s Poisoner by Jeff Wheeler
More (adult) books I recommend include:
Date Night On Union Station by E. M. Foner (humorous, science fiction)
Lady of Devices by Shelley Adina (light steampunk, it might be YA)
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell By Susanna Clarke (historical Regency fantasy)
Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot By Patricia Wrede & Caroline Stevermer (historical Regency fantasy)
Sword of the Lamb, The Phoenix Legacy series By M.K. Wren (science fiction)
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (fantasy)
Crystal Singer by Anne McCaffrey (light science fiction)