Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

July 9, 2015

Title: Uprooted
Author: Naomi Novik
Publication date: July 29, 2014
Publisher: Macmillan
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 
Source: Publisher (NetGalley)
Amazon | Goodreads | TBD
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, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood's powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost 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 no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.
After a slew of one unimpressive book after another, I finally struck gold with Uprooted. This book is like that person you meet for the first time and know you're going to be best friends with, because it feels like you've known each other your entire lives.

At first, Agnieszka appears to be that obviously flawed, self deprecating heroine you see in every other contemporary novel these days. But after a few pages, you realise that she's flawed, but also very matter of fact and proud about it, and she really doesn't give a damn about what others think about her for it. Her friend Kasia, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. Prim, proper, sweet and always the best at what she does, Kasia is the obvious choice when the Dragon comes calling. While you may think that the Dragon is, in fact, an actual dragon, he is not. He's the greatest wizard of the land, and he protects the people from the malevolent evil that is the Wood, a dark, dangerous forest bordering the land between Polnya and Rosya. Every ten years, the Dragon takes a girl from one of the villages near the Wood and keeps her with him, for whatever reason, which no one knows. After the ten years is up, the girl leaves, never to return, and the Dragon takes a new tribute. Its usually the most beautiful, most intelligent, most special girl he chooses. This year, however, is different. He takes Agnieszka.

Uprooted is a true masterpiece. There is so much I love about it that I don't know where to start, and all I want to do is make you feel what I felt with this book, because if you did, you'd know you have to read it. (This level of gushing in itself is super unnatural coming from me. That should give you a hint.)

The characters in this story will linger in your head for a long while, even after you've closed the book. They are each complex and layered, and Novik is so amazing a storyteller that she makes us empathize even with the antagonist. While Agnieszka is already a confident young girl comfortable in her own skin at the beginning of the story, as she learns to take a stand with the Dragon, and learn to master her own brand of magic, her character arc is quite like Agnieszka herself to observe - bumps and stumbles and snags, but then, when you take a step back, you see how far she's come from the start. The Dragon is a character who remains somewhat of an enigma right up till the end, and do you know, I'm not really sorry about that. It keeps the aura around him intact, and I liked that.

Agnieszka's magic is something that is foreign to the Dragon, for it follows no logic or reason, and none of the conventional spells and cantrips seem to work for her. It takes him some time to accept her intuitive brand of magic, and when he merges his power with hers, neither of them are ready for the level of harmony and unity it creates.
He was staring at the riot of flowers all around us, as astonished as I was.

He looked at me, baffled and for the first time uncertain, as though he had stumbled into something, unprepared. His long narrow hands were cradled around mine, both of us holding the rose together. Magic was singing in me, through me; I felt the murmur of his power singing back that same song.
This initial rejection, then exploration, and later, acceptance of Agnieszka's magic felt a lot like how people who do not fall under the traditional definition of 'intelligent' are treated. Where I come from, for instance, its only medicine or engineering that's considered a worthwhile career, and only those who choose them, intelligent. We need to break free from these rigid ideas, and Uprooted portrays that beautifully.

Complex antagonists are the best, in my opinion. It makes them more than simply a two dimensional character with an agenda to kill. When you know what motivates a character, what drives them to the point where they no longer feel any remorse for bringing devastation on a people, it makes things so much more interesting, not to mention creepy and scary. And the Wood is one hell of an interesting antagonist! If Novik ever returns to this world, I do so hope she writes one that tells us about the Wood's history, because let me tell you, what glimpse we do get of it is intriguing and confusing and amazing and I NEED MORE PLEASSEEE!!!

Its not often that friendship is given center stage in a story. While strong female friendships have played a significant part in several stories, it is not often that several portions of the plot itself is driven by the bond of friendship between two characters. Agniezska wouldn't have ended up in the tower if it weren't for her trying to prevent Kasia from going in the first place, and the strength of their bond is tested and proved time and again as the story unfolds. But that does not mean that they share a perfect relationship. No one does. There is a scene in which their imperfections are laid down bare before each other, and you wonder if they will ever be able to come back after that. But they do. And they endure. Kasia is formidable, and I love her.

While the worldbuilding, plot, characters and pace of Uprooted are impeccable, there is one thing that lifts it from the realm of 'amazing' to 'UTTERLY ALL-CAPS PERFECTION' and that is Novik's writing. The way words are written is extremely important to me, as can be attested by the very name of this blog. Novik's writing is reminiscent of those old fairy tales that we read when we were little, but its in no way childish. The stock fairy tale elements are present - the girl, the forest, the villain, the 'quest', but it doesn't feel repetitive or immature. It feels like a fairy tale that's been waiting for you to grow up so it could meet you. Its eloquent, and graceful, and it just makes you FEEL so much, and ties the story so beautifully together. Its very hard for me to explain this in words, (I could probably write an entire love letter devoted to the prose in this book) but Novik's way of writing made me feel like I was coming home, and who doesn't love to feel at home in a story?

Bottomline: PLEASE READ THIS BOOK BECAUSE IT NEEDS TO BE READ AND IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE AND YOU WILL DIE FROM ALL THE FEELS AND LOVE IT FOREVER! Now please, for the love of God, GO READ IT!!! *rushes off to read the rest of Naomi Novik's books*

FROM AROUND THE BLOGOSPHERE

The Book Pushers: Sarkan the Dragon reminds me of Beauty and the Beast, but a sideways version where the Beast is Severus Snape from Harry Potter.

There Were Books Involved: Agnieszka knows she’s clumsy, and she doesn’t care. She owns who she is, stands up for herself, takes joy from her life any way she can, and she knows she’s strong and resilient. I loved this.

Writer of Wrongs: Read this haunted fairy tale. Read it. Become one with it. Let it corrupt you with its magic and let it take your soul

Holding Quote:
I couldn't imagine a world where I lived, where I left this behind me, Kasia's life and heart feeding this corrupt monstrous thing. I would rather have died, crushed in my own earthquake, and brought it down with me.

And I wasn't old enough to be wise, so I loved her more, not less, because I knew she would be taken from me soon.

Truth didn’t mean anything without someone to share it with; you could shout truth into the air forever, and spend your life doing it, if someone didn’t come and listen.

What an unequaled gift for disaster you have.