Monday, 5 October 2015

Review | Uprooted by Naomi Novik

by Naomi Novik

My Rating: 

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.

Uprooted has been everywhere this year, and the two of us have had something of a difficult relationship. At the beginning of the year I was contacted by the publisher who asked me if I wanted a copy, to which I said yes, and then never received a copy. I then managed to get a copy from NetGalley, but the eARC was so horribly formatted I couldn't read it, so after all of that I ended up buying myself a copy anyway. It is a very beautiful book, though, so I don't mind having it on my shelf - I love mint green.

I knew I had to read this after I saw Natalie @ A Sea Change's review. Uprooted is one of her favourite books of this year, and as she read one of my favourite books of this year, Signal to Noise, I wanted to return the favour.

I love me a good fairy tale, so a story with fairy tale elements and Polish influences sounded right up my alley. I don't think I've read anything with any Polish influences before, so now I'm glad I have. I know some people struggled with some of the Polish words, such as Agnieszka's name, but I always thought Agnieszka was a fairly common Polish name; I'd certainly heard it before. Without wanting to sound like a dick, if you don't know how to pronounce something, just look it up! We have Google at our fingertips, it'll take seconds.

So Uprooted is set in a village which has at its outskirts, The Wood. The Wood is bloody terrifying - it really gave me the heebie jeebies - and it's been known to swallow villages whole. Thankfully for the villagers they have The Dragon, a wizard who lives in a tower between the village and The Wood. Every ten years The Dragon comes to the village to take one of the girls back to his tower; she stays with him for a decade and then she leaves, and she never goes home. Instead she leaves for one of the big cities or pastures new. Our heroine, Agnieszka, is convinced that The Dragon is going to take her best friend, Kasia, but when The Dragon comes he of course chooses Agnieszka instead, and the story goes from there.

I liked Agnieszka. If Novik wasn't careful she could have drifted into Mary Sue territory - she's clumsy to a fault and doesn't care about her appearance etc. - but she didn't feel like a stock character to me. Yes she discovers she's a witch and a rather powerful one at that, but I enjoyed the way Novik wrote about magic; unlike The Dragon's rather academic and clean approach to magic, Agnieszka's abilities are much more earthy and natural. At one point she describes her magic as coming out differently every time because it's like she's picking her way through a thicket, and the way is never the same each time. I really liked that image.

I liked Agnieszka and Kasia's friendship, too. There's always a worry with female friendships that they're going to be turned against one another, but that doesn't happen here; Novik's determined to write a womance, which is just what she's done.

I'll admit, my favourite character was probably The Dragon. I know. I'm weak. Yes he's a bit of a prick, but he ticks all my boxes: he's an older man (I know some people don't care for the age difference, but I love me an older man); he's intelligent; he's snarky, and he's hot. I would climb that man like a tree. No pun intended. He also gets points for being one half of a totally consensual, lady-focused sex scene. By that I mean Novik writes a sex scene - it's not gratuitous if that kind of thing makes you uncomfortable - in which he makes sure his partner is enthusiastically willing before he proceeds, and when he is certain he makes sure she's, ahem, satisfied before he is.

The thing I probably loved most about this book, though, is that it was so obvious Novik poured her heart and soul into writing it. There's just something about it that feels like a real labour of love, and I respected that a lot.

If that's the case, Jess, why haven't you given it a bazillion stars?

Well. Reader, I married him I didn't love it. Reading this reminded me of reading The Night Circus; I enjoyed it, I liked the story and the characters and the writing, but it was also a real effort to read. I started it in July, and I finished it in October. I got to the end and it felt like an accomplishment, and also a little bit of a relief. I want to be sad, not glad, when a story's over. I can't quite put my finger on it, but there was just something about it that meant this book and I didn't totally click.

I did enjoy it, though, and I'm glad to have it under my belt!

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