Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Changing clothes, climbing out of towers, tripping up grumpy wizards—it has never been more difficult to be a witch!

After recently reading a few reviews of this book in the blogosphere and also finding it on the goodreads 2015 best fantasy books of the year—I knew I had to get my hands on this book asap!

Title: Uprooted

Author: Naomi Novik

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 435

Days to read it: 1 day without coming up for air!

Synopsis:

Enter the Wood, where misty wists dance between the branches, trees snatch you into the heart of their trunks, and a breath of pollen drifting in the air makes a different person stare out of your eyes. Drink from the river that runs through the Wood and never leave it, get bitten by its denizens and succumb to its mind-eating corruption, scrape an arm on a branch and see it take on the whorls of wood—be taken away by the Dragon who lives at its edge and perhaps you’ll never return home again the same person.

Agnieszka believes all the stories—and she’s seen them happen with her own eyes. The Dragon in the tower at the edge of the Wood protects her little village of Dvernik from the wood’s darker sorcery. But every ten years, he takes one girl prisoner with him back to the tower as payment. He doesn’t eat them. But, like any that are unfortunate enough to get too close to the woods, the girls are irreversibly changed after their ten year imprisonment—ruined, perhaps. Unable to return to their simple village life.

When the time comes for the Dragon to select his next prisoner, Agnieszka is sure he will pick her best friend—beautiful, talented, and brave, Kasia. After all, surely he wouldn’t want a scrawny, clumsy girl who never fails to get her dress dirty and torn, who always has burrs and brambles in her hair, and who doesn’t know a thing about how to serve a Lord. Though it breaks her heart that Kasia will be taken, she is secretly glad it isn’t her that will have to disappear into the tower with the cold, inscrutable, most powerful wizard in all of Polnya. So, when the Dragon surprises everybody in the village and picks her instead, she barely has time to say good-bye before he has her gripped tightly by the wrist and dragged through a window in the air into her new life.

There Agnieszka won’t have much time to learn about how to serve a Lord. Instead, she will learn the true name of the Dragon and much more—the truth about the Woods, the truth about herself, and the truth about the ancient magic that has planted its seed in heart of her village, her kingdom, and those she loves—and are beginning to love. Naomi Novik’s Uprooted takes root in your heart and sprouts into a heart tree that rustles with leaves made from pages of old myths as gnarled as its trunk. Follow the call of the Wood and return changed—with those deep corners of your imagination filled with magic and lore, charming, familiar, and strange.

Impressions:

Seems like there’s a trend in my fantasy related reading, lately: forests.

Here I go on another rant about how I love the ancient forest trope in fantasy. Skip paragraph below to avoid ramble!

Guys, after reading Uprooted, I wanted to curl up on some mossy spot underneath the fringe of a pine deep in the hush of the woods and dream (yes, I am aware of the dangers of being tucked into the heart of a tree by an overly helpful walker). The forests of my favorite stories are beautiful, old, and enchanted—the one in Uprooted is all of these things. I love the danger and risk of characters losing their way in forests and forgetting who they were but, if they’re brave enough to enter that fantastical forest anyway, earning the privilege of meeting ancient beings and creatures of myth. And always, after they wander into a forest they return—changed. Our heroes and heroines return wiser, in-tune with themselves, at peace, and for the brief moment we are nestled in the story, the reader does, too. The magical forests of my favorite fantasies connect the characters to truths and mythologies as deep as the roots and as far reaching as the boughs, truths the characters didn’t even know how to find. Like the rustling brush of its leaves, the forest provides just the gentlest touch of subtle guidance to the story.

Heh. In some ways Agnieszka reminds me of Anna. And in this scene Kristoff certainly is cool . :3

I love the small beginnings of Uprooted. The first bit of the story is about an awkward, uncertain, frightened girl and—in some ways—an even more awkward, cool, snooty, all-barriers-are-up wizard and how these two have to fit each other into their new lives. The Dragon stubbornly wants to live his life one way, but Agnieszka just as stubbornly won’t fit. They both don’t want to be there but the confines of the tower force them to figure out how. The Dragon is a mean, constantly scowling, serious man who seems like the sort who wouldn’t normally be so easily ruffled. He’s a bit of a Mr. Darcy character in that regard. He enjoys the beauty of refined, aristocratic things and likes things to be orderly, clean, and logical. But Agnieszka can’t be anyone but herself and no matter how much the Dragon is frustrated at her, she won’t—in fact, she refuses—to change who she is fundamentally. An honest, simplehearted girl without pretense. It thrills the heart to see them both shed onionskin layers in front of each other and inch towards each other. Magic can’t hide the truth of who they both are or how they are when they work together. And, boy, the things that happen when the work together. Whew! *fans herself*

Same goes for Agnieszka’s friendship with Kasia. Truths can be ugly but they can also be freeing. Truths can shatter a friendship or make it stronger. In this case, it brought the two girls together so that even amidst the clawing, grasping, darkness of a forest that wants them to lose themselves, they can find each other and be the light of loyalty and love that helps each other find the way out. The sisterhood between the two girls is truly touching. They support each other without even needing to put their troubles into words. The best kind of friendship. Sometimes in novels, it’s easy for there to be a protagonist, a love interest, and a side-kick friend. A lot of creative energy is focused on developing the romantic interest and sadly, if there is a friend in the story, it seems like they only exist to support the protagonist or become a third wheel in the story. Uprooted doesn’t take the easy way out when it deals with friendships. Kasia has desires and dreams. She supports Agnieszka but she’s not just a side-kick, she’s fully fleshed out and there is a strong feeling that she has her own destiny and story that just happens to not be the focus of the one we’re reading about at the moment.

And now, to talk about my favorite part of Uprooted: the magic!

No, no, none of this Hermione. Leave your spellbooks at home!

Uprooted has a familiar yet distinct flavor of magic. On the one hand, we have stuffy wizards spending days enclosed in the stone walls of a library, trying to classify and bind the magic into orderly rows of print in books, on the other hand, we have wild, untamed, earthier magic, free and unpredictable and comprehended only as a feeling. The Dragon and Agnieszka’s arguments about magic and which way is the right way are delightfully nonsensical and entertaining. Naomi Novik doesn’t just dump a whole load of muttered words into her story haphazardly—she makes her characters use them and use them in clever ways until you remember what those words do, too. My favorite spell is the Summoning spell. My eyes teared up every. Single. Time. The scenes of truth were so raw and painful but simultaneously touching and comforting. A close second has got to be the vanastalem cantrip. I’ve never been more entertained by pages describing a character changing clothes 😛 I’ll leave details out about the spells so I don’t spoil you, but suffice it to say the way the magic is used is surprising and fun, just as it is mysterious.

And now we come to the end of the story to which I begin a frantic googling and mutter under my breath, “When?!!” As in, when are we going to get a second book? Uprooted is a stand alone story but though the main arc has been completed, there is so much more to be explored in the characters and their relationships with each other. CERTAIN people have only just begun to warm up! But alas, so far, there is nothing in the works. So, we’ll all just have to accept that the next story will come when Naomi Novik feels it’s right for it to be summoned onto the page.

Rating: 5 perfectly illusioned roses in a bush that make a witch and wizard hot and bothered. 😛

Bad first impressions = most entertainment value for romance!

And now, here is an excerpt that made me laugh. The dragon has just chosen Agnieszka “apparated” them both into the tower (excuse my HP reference but I can’t find where they mention the spell he used :P). Agnieszka has no idea what to expect except the worst. Lesson to be learned by Sarkan: things that annoy you will probably annoyingly endear themselves to you in the future. Be forewarned!

It sounds stupid to be afraid of going down a staircase, but I was terrified. I nearly went back to my room after all. At last I kept one hand on the smooth stone wall and went down slowly, putting both my feet on one step and stopping to listen before I went down a little more.
 
After I’d crept down one whole turn like that, and nothing had jumped out at me, I began to feel like an idiot and started to walk more quickly. But then I went around another turn, and still hadn’t come to a landing; and another, and I started to be afraid again, this time that the stairs were magic and would just keep going forever, and—well. I started to go quicker and quicker, and then I skidded three steps down onto the next landing and ran headlong into the Dragon.
 
I was skinny, but my father was the tallest man in the village and I came up to his shoulder, and the Dragon wasn’t a big man. We nearly tumbled down the stairs together. He caught the railing with one hand, quick, and my arm with the other, and somehow managed to keep us from landing on the floor. I found myself leaning heavily on him, clutching at his coat and staring directly into his startled face. For one moment he was too surprised to be thinking, and he looked like an ordinary man startled by something jumping out at him, a little bit silly and a little bit soft, his mouth parted and his eyes wide.
 
I was so surprised myself that I didn’t move, just stayed there gawking at him helplessly, and he recovered quick; outrage swept over his face and he heaved me off him onto my feet. Then I realized what I’d just done and blurted in a panic, before he could speak, “I’m looking for the kitchen!”
 
Are you,” he said silkily. His face didn’t look at all soft anymore, hard and furious, and he hadn’t let go of my arm. His grip was clenching, painful; I could feel the heat of it through the sleeve of my shift. He jerked me towards him and bent towards me—I think he would have liked to loom over me, and because he couldn’t was even more angry. If I’d had a moment to think about it, I would have bent back and made myself smaller, but I was too tired and scared. So instead his face was just before mine, so close his breath was on my lips and I felt as much as heard his cold, vicious whisper: “Perhaps I’d better show you there.”
 
“I can—I can” I tried to say, trembling, trying to lean back from him. He spun away from me and dragged me after him down the stairs, around and around and around again, five turns this time before we came to the next landing, and then another three turns down, the light growing dimmer, before at last he dragged me out into the lowest floor of the tower, just a single large bare-walled dungeon chamber of carven stone, with a huge fireplace shaped like a downturned mouth, full of flames leaping hellishly.
 
He dragged me towards it, and in a moment of blind terror I realized he meant to throw me in. He was so strong, much stronger than he ought to have been for his size, and he’d pulled me easily stumbling down the stairs after him. But I wasn’t going to let him put me in the fire. I wasn’t a lady-like quiet girl; all my life I’d spent running in the woods, climbing trees and tearing through brambles, and panic gave me real strength. I screamed as he pulled me close to it, and then I went into a fit of struggling and clawing and squirming, so this time I really did trip him to the floor.
 
I went down with him. We banged our heads on the flagstones together, and dazed lay still for a moment with our limbs entwined. The fire was leaping and crackling beside us, and as my panic faded, abruptly I noticed that in the wall beside it were small iron oven doors, and before it a spit for roasting, and above it a huge wide shelf with cooking-pots on it. It was only the kitchen.
 
After a moment, he said, in almost marveling tones, “Are you deranged?”
 
“I thought you were going to throw me in the oven,” I said, still dazed, and then started to laugh.
 
It wasn’t real laughter—I was half-hysterical by then, wrung out six ways and hungry, my ankles and knees bruised from being dragged down the stairs and my head aching as though I’d cracked my skull, and I just couldn’t stop.
 
But he didn’t know that. All he knew was the stupid village girl he’d picked was laughing at him, the Dragon, the greatest wizard of the kingdom and her lord and master. I don’t think anyone had laughed at him in a hundred years, by then. He pushed himself up, kicking his legs free from mine, and getting to his feet stared down at me, outraged as a cat. I only laughed harder, and then he turned abruptly and left me there laughing on the floor, as though he couldn’t think what else to do with me.

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13 comments

  1. Woot! I love this one too soooo much. I was crushed when I realized it was a standalone, but I’m now a loyal Novik fan <3. I so agree about the forest trope, I freaking love ancient and magical and possibly creepy forests. What other forest books do you recommend??

  2. Mmm, I loved Sarkan. By rights I should have hated him,, since every other page he was calling our protagonist an idiot or insinuating she is a dullard. I hate jerkish love interests, but Novik had a way of making me throw all my usual pet peeves over tired tropes out the window. Loved this book too 🙂

  3. I’m actually a bit mad right now because I ordered it a while ago, but it still hasn’t arrived. And reading your review makes me feel like I want to read it now!

    I love books with “small beginnings” and the fact that you just compared the dragon to Mr. Darcy, well! That’s quite convincing! I’m also super curious about the magic system now. It’s one of my favorite things in fantasy, an original and/or fun magic system, and little pleases me more than seeing authors get creative with it, either in the technical aspects or simply in the execution. Awesome review!

  4. Kay – I totally understand your pain 😛 I, too, was waiting for it for what felt like forever and when it finally came, I was so happy I read it in a day, ha. The magic system in this one is indeed very familiar yet new. The key is how Naomi Novik uses the magic – she’s fairly clever. 🙂

  5. Jenny – OMG! Yes, it does now that you mention it! Except Sarkan is just sooo much grumpier whereas I felt Howl was more petulant?? I need to re-read HMC!!

  6. DJ – The thing that made me most impatient to finally get to reading it was the fact that it was on the goodreads 2015 best fantasies, ha! But, yeah, the magic is cleverly used (it’s nothing surprising necessarily or totally crazy – it’s a pretty familiar magical system – but it’s how it’s used that I like)

  7. This is one of my top ten books of the year for sure! Your review makes me want to go back and read it again. I just loved the characters, I think that’s part of what made this book so special for me.

  8. Nishita – Yes, do do!! 😀 My copy of Throne of Glass came btw. I’m trying to read mostly scifi right now for scifi month but I think I’m just gonna cave…:P

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