Author: Naomi Novik
Published by: Del Rey
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Where I got the Book: Public Library
This review was originally written for the Charlatan. An edited version was published on September 1, 2016, Volume 46, Issue 5.
The wood has been slowly growing over centuries, as its dark magic spreads, threatening the valley and the people who live within it. Agnieszka’s people rely on the protection of a cold, enigmatic wizard known as the Dragon to keep the wood and the evil that lurks within it at bay, but for a price. Every 10 years a young women must be handed over to the Dragon to serve him, without question. All her life, Agnieszka believes Kaisa, her smart, talented and beautiful best friend, will be the one taken. But when the Dragon comes, to everyone’s surprise it’s Agnieszka he takes with him.
A 2016 Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel and winner of the 2016 Nebula Award for Best Novel, Uprooted is a beautiful retelling that draws upon Slavic fairy tales, creating a twist on an old genre. Although Naomi Novik is better known for her Temeraire series, Uprooted is a enjoyable stand-alone. The novel is a refreshing spin on fantasy and fairytale tropes, lighthearted at times but also focusing on the darker side of emotions, power and magic.
Agnieszka’s story is a relatable one, about a girl who was never that talented and suddenly finds herself in a situation she never expected as she learns that she’s a witch. The Dragon is foreboding and at times cruel, as Agnieszka struggles to learn magic under his tutelage. The conflict between the Dragon and Agnieszka’s magic styles draws a comparison to tensions between more rigid, academic understandings of knowledge and a looser, freer do-it-yourself understanding. As the story progresses Agnieszka and the Dragon learn to work together, to accept the unknown and to try new things as they desperately struggle to contain the wood and save the kingdom.
At times though, Uprooted struggles a little as the plot goes on to long. The story would have benefited from either being cut back a bit or being broken into multiple books and fleshed out more. At points Uprooted feels like Novik was unable to move beyond the skeleton of a fairy tale and this really limits certain parts of the book. Rather than feeling like natural progression, characters often feel like they’re rushing across the kingdom just to quickly move the story along. Novik writes with a good narrative voice and description, but at times her characterization falls flat. Certain characters, like Kaisa, never really move beyond the first perception of them even as Novik tried to demonstrate their growth. Others don’t have time to grow naturally due to the fast past and wide scope of the plot. Agnieszka and the Dragon’s growth over the novel is one of the strongest focal points of the book, as Agnieszka learns to accept and master her powers, and the Dragon struggles to accept his feelings for Agnieszka and his dislike of non-traditional styles of magic.
Although Uprooted is not the strongest stand alone novel, it’s an enjoyable read with beautiful writing and a fresh take on a traditional tale.