Uprooted by Naomi NovikUprooted by Naomi Novik
Published by Macmillan on May 21st 2015
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 438
Goodreads

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.

From the author of the Temeraire series comes this hugely imaginative, engrossing and vivid fantasy novel, inspired by folk and fairy tales. It is perfect reading for fans of Robin Hobb and Trudi Canavan.

4.5 Stars

Uprooted is one of the best fantasy books I’ve read this year. It has everything I could ever want in a book and is so perfectly balanced.

Having said that, it was surprisingly difficult to write a review for this novel. The thing I loved most about Uprooted was the feeling it gave me. How do you describe that? Uprooted was both unlike anything I’ve read before and yet oddly familiar. Throughout the book I kept wondering why. Why I knew this feeling and then I realized it was the same emotion I get when I watch a Studio Ghibli movie. Let me tell you, I ADORE Studio Ghibli. Hayao Miyazaki films are my childhood. So if I say Uprooted felt like watching one of those movies then that means A LOT. The movies have this perfect balance of whimsical fairy tale, crazy imagination and creativity that makes you go “who on earth would ever think of that?”, paired with flawed, human characters that keep the story grounded. Uprooted is just like that.

In fact, the book was reminiscent of Howl’s Moving Castle and had elements (or rather one big element, the Wood) of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds but still felt completely original.

The book managed to be simultaneously charming, creepy, suspenseful and romantic.

The story opens in a village where 17-year-old Agnieszka has been living with her family all her life. Things can be difficult however, because there is a dangerous Wood nearby that corrupts people if they come into contact with it. In order to keep the Wood at bay, the villagers rely on the help of the Dragon, a powerful wizard. As compensation for his efforts, the Dragon demands a tribute: every ten years he picks a girl and takes her to his castle where she will serve him for the following ten years.

I’ve been waiting for a book like this. If you would have asked me to write a list of all my bookish pet peeves, then given that list to a great author and asked them to write my perfect book, Uprooted would have been the result.

The characters:

Agnieszka is our protagonist and she is wonderful. She isn’t your typical fantasy heroine; instead she is physically plain (a fact which is stated numerous times throughout the novel), clumsy and always a mess. She constantly gets herself into trouble. But she is also kind and heroic and I found myself rooting for her from page one.

Then we have the Dragon. Aloof and ambitious, meticulous and uptight. The perfect counter-balance to Agnieszka. Having those two together in one room screams conflict. And conflicts they had. It was great. It was hilarious.

And let us not forget Kasia, Agnieszka’s best friend. Yes, you read correctly, the best friend is actually important. The relationship between these two was so heart-warming. Kasia is beautiful, graceful and brave, everyone loves her and yet, Nieshka doesn’t feel bitter. She loves Kasia and wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice herself to save her and vice versa. Their relationship was beautiful but also realistic; I loved it.

World-building and writing:

The world-building in this book was fantastic. Firstly, there is no learning curve, the story starts small and expands slowly and subtly, we are never bombarded with information. This is great for people who aren’t used to reading a lot of adult fantasy novels. Secondly, this novel creates incredible atmosphere that makes the story even more captivating. Naomi Novik based the world on Polish culture and folklore, which added another layer of originality and authenticity to the story. The world was dark and whimsical and coupled with Novik’s beautiful writing this book is a masterpiece.

The magic:

I think many readers will struggle with the magic in this book, particularly those who are used to Sanderson like magic systems. And usually, I will be the first to tell you that magic needs rules, that it needs limits. The magic in Uprooted doesn’t really have either. And yet, I loved it?

For one, the way the magic was portrayed in the book perfectly fit the whimsical, fairy-tale-like atmosphere. It would have been jarring to have this kind of world with a hard magic. It was wondrous and curious, you were never really sure what was possible, what was real and what imagined.

Secondly, this book is much more about the writing and characters than it is about the plot, and so the lack of rules in the magic didn’t bother me. Though magic is ever-present in the story, it is not about that.

Thirdly,  having this kind of limitless magic is mainly a problem when it serves to solve major conflicts in the plot and the reader feels like it’s a deus ex machina. But this didn’t happen here. The villain in the story is so incredibly powerful (basically omnipotent) that the suspense and tension is still high throughout and I never felt cheated.

The villain:

I am honestly so sick and tired of reading fantasy novels with the same villains over and over again. There is always an evil king or queen who wants to rule the world and has no conscience etc. But here we have something completely new to the fantasy genre: A villain that isn’t even human but A WOOD. It was creepy, it was dark, it was unexpected. It can get into people’s heads, you never know where you’re at, who to trust. What is scarier than that?

The only downside:

The one little complaint I have about Uprooted and the reason that I didn’t give it 5 stars despite it’s glory, is the pacing. Though I was hooked from the beginning, I will admit that there were parts that were slow-moving and not much happened. I was never bored, but I did sometimes wish we could move on to more exciting things a bit more quickly.

Overall:

Uprooted was a fantastic book. There are some parts that are slower and that may, for some readers, be hard to get through, but despite that  I can’t recommend it enough. If you like fantasy, please give this one a try.