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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"Uprooted" by Naomi Novik (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman & Joshua Redlich)

 Visit Naomi Novik's Official Website Here

OVERVIEW: “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.

FORMAT: Uprooted is a standalone dark fantasy novel which is heavily influenced by folk tales and Grimm fairy tales. There is magic, wizards, mystery, adventure, and a coming of age tale. It is not considered a YA novel, but older teens would appreciate it. There are some pretty dark scenes.

Uprooted was published by Del Rey on May 19, 2015 and stands at 438 pages.

ANALYSIS: (Cindy): Considering I am an avid fan of all things Beauty and the Beast, it could only be expected that a new fantasy novel that is said to be a retelling of this beloved fairy tale would be right up my alley. Throw in having it written by the highly talented Naomi Novik and I knew I had to read Uprooted. Unfortunately, a slow start almost had me missing out on one of the best novels of 2015.

When I started reading Uprooted, I'll admit I didn't feel a connection with anything in the novel. I didn't really feel anything for the main character, Agnieszka. It wasn't that I disliked her; I just found there was a connection lacking. As the story progressed and more characters were thrown in, I still struggled to find a connection with anyone – The Dragon, Kasia, anyone in the book. It just wasn't happening for me. That is until the halfway point.

Suddenly, at around page 150 or so, something clicked and I found myself invested in the story. I found I was connecting and bonding with Agnieszka. I was into the story and I wanted to find out what happened.

Several factors I believe contributed to my struggle with the beginning of the novel. The first factor was the constant comparisons to Beauty and the Beast. There is a very faint connection between Uprooted and Beauty and the Beast, but really the stories are so different. Uprooted is an entirely new fairy tale. Yes, it has some Grimm-like elements, but it is its own unique story.

I feel the comparisons threw me off. I was expecting one thing and it was really another thing. Sure, there is the young woman torn abruptly from her family and whisked away to a castle with a pouting and unpleasant beast-like character. But the similarities end there. If I hadn't heard about this aspect of the novel, I think things would have been different.

Another aspect that contributed to the slow start is everything about Uprooted is completely reimagined. Readers are started from scratch and have to get accustomed to the world, the characters, and the new magic system. In all good fantasy books, this takes time to develop.  Naomi Novik takes her time and carefully develops everything, especially the magic system. While at the moment it was a bit frustrating to have to relearn everything and get acquainted with a new world, in the end it was well worth it. By the time I completed the novel, I actually appreciated the amount of time and effort Novik took to develop all the intricacies.

Once I got past the slow start, things just feel into place. I was hooked. I wanted to see what happened, wanted to unravel the mystery, and just experience what the characters were feeling. By the end of the book, I barely even remembered that I almost put it down when I first started.

Uprooted, with the exception of my personal slow start with the book, doesn't have a lot of problems. The plot is strong, the characters eventually grow on you, there is adventure, mystery and just the right touch of fantasy/folk lore, the magic system is believable, yet thought out and slightly unique, and it really is a dark, unique novel. There is one thing I absolutely loved about this novel – its 'love' story.

Most fantasy books are focused on creating this ultimate love story and having the main characters fall in love with the evil, bad guy or the hard to get character. Uprooted has a love story, but it isn't what you would think. It ultimately tells the tale of what a best friend from childhood would do to save her friend. I loved the fact that romance wasn't the main focal point of the novel and just made this novel even more special to me.

There is one slight issue I came across while reading – the mind reading. The entire novel is written in first person narrative style from the point of view of Agnieszka. Almost like a story teller were telling you the story. Unfortunately, there would be times when Agnieszka would be narrating something or telling you she was thinking about something, and suddenly a character would answer her or start a conversation about it. This first started when Agnieszka was taken by The Dragon. I thought it was some weird mental magic he was doing on her, but this continued throughout the book with multiple people ranging from her best friend to the prince and even random townspeople.

I realize that there were probably 'off page' conversations going on, which explained this mind reading power, but it did make for some awkward parts of the novel and had me re-reading a paragraph or two to see if I missed something.

Uprooted is a standalone novel. There are no current plans to return to the world that is created, but I would gladly welcome any future books if they should come along.

Uprooted is one of the most talked about (and praised) fantasy novels for the year and it rightfully deserves its praise. It is well written and unique. And it has enough of a plot that by the time you finish you feel as if you read three entire books in the span of 400+ words.  

It is hard to believe that I almost missed out on this because of its slow start. It easily became one of my top novels for 2015.

(Joshua): All I knew about Uprooted going in was that it was an unbelievably well received dark fairytale. I had no idea what it was about, and not a clue of what to expect when I went in. But then I began, and I immediately fell in love.

The book, a masterfully told first person account, begins as a twist on the cliché story of a dragon kidnapping a maiden. In this story, The Dragon is a powerful wizard who, every ten years, takes a 17-year-old girl from one of the villages he looks after and keeps her captive in his tower for reasons unknown.

The story quickly introduces readers to this original take on the maiden-stealing dragon while delving into life in the village of Dvernik, which lies beside an evil, magical forest that The Dragon protects it from. But by chapter two, the story suddenly transforms into a Beauty and the Beast tale following the recently chosen victim and her relationship with the Dragon in his tower. At this point, only 30 or so pages into the 400 plus page novel, I began to worry that the book would be a horribly slow-paced love story and that it would take forever for the story to leave The Dragon’s tower, where no one but he and his maiden live. Boy was I wrong.

The novel moved incredibly quickly. One thing after another pulled me deeper and deeper into the story and the lives of the characters (all of who are incredibly well-realized, with distinctive mannerisms that match their individual personalities perfectly). And by the time the story moved away from The Dragon’s tower, I didn’t even want to leave.

While the classic story of the dragon and the elements of Beauty and the Beast were the ones most prevalent at the beginning, the story is mostly influenced by Slavic fairy tales, particularly those of the witch Baba Yaga, a character who actually appears in the book as the mysterious Old Baba Jaga. In fact, the one thing I felt was lacking from the book was more on the mysterious old witch, and I am now left wanting to pour through Slavic folklore to learn more about her. Readers who love fairytale retellings will find this a refreshing departure from the classic Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Anderson stories that are most commonly used in such books.

Uprooted is also a tale filled with magic, with wizards, witches, and an enchanted forest that are all constantly casting spells or unleashing nightmarish creatures. Yet the magic performed in Uprooted, particularly the type equated with Baba Jaga, is gorgeously wrought, often described in metaphors comparing it to something earthen, like a forest path lined with hedges or a flowing river. These images, which also add to the forest motif that is central to the story, help convey a sort of magic that is almost tangible, allowing readers to experience it in a way most fantasies fail to.

There are so many scenes I wish to explore in depth, but I don’t want to ruin anything. For me, Uprooted is truly an enchanted forest, whose beautiful, sylvan paths twist and turn in unknown directions, and I have no intention of providing any hints as to where those trails lead. This is one forest you will want to get lost in.


Cori Dyson said...

Well written review of Uprooted. Thanks for introducing me to Naomi Novik. I am definitely adding this book to my reading list.

Rebecca said...

I just finished this one and went looking for other reviews to see if my opinions matched. I felt the same about the romance not being the focal point, I loved how the Dragon's character didn't take the expected route of gushing romance. Great book, greats reviews!
Rebecca @ The Portsmouth Review
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Conno Hendriksen said...

Funny, I actually liked the beginning of the book, with Naomi's clever way of writing and describing things, and setting the scene. But more and more towards the end I felt the book became much too convoluted, some characters very one dimensional, and the solutions way too 'deus ex machina' (for lack of better description).

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