Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Author: Naomi Novik
Title: Uprooted
Format/Source: Hardcover/library 
Published: May 2015
Publisher: Del Rey
Length: 435 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Why I Read: Intriguing description, pretty cover, strong reviews
Read If You: Enjoy magic fantasy set in older days
Quote: “His name tasted of fire and wings, of curling smoke, of subtlety and strength and the rasping whisper of scales.
Rating★★★★½
Links: GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Amazon
The back of this book features a number of accolades from distinguished fantasy authors including Urusula K. Le Guin, Gregory Maguire, Ellen Kushner, and Todd McCafrey. I try not to let blurbs from famous writers hold too much sway over me, but I was impressed, even more so when I saw glowing reviews from Goodreads friends. These praises are important because even though the description of Uprooted appealed to me, I’m wary of fantasy after too many disappointments (I am a picky reader especially in this genre). The glowing reviews convinced me it would be worth my time. 

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. (1)

I’m hooked! I liked the premise. I liked these traditional castle medieval fantasies, which may be a misnomer but it’s a label I’ve stuck with since I was younger (cc: Tuesdays at the Tower, Stardust). I like the distant fantasy atmosphere the tale starts out with. Of course, as you become more familiar with the characters and setting it feels more real and less magical. I thought the story dragged a bit while Agnieszka was at the castle. I appreciated that it was time away from Sarkan for her to grow a bit more. I liked the dark wood, buuuuut I got a bit lost in the explanation of how it came to be. This is probably my fault, not Novik’s. I have a problem with rushing through the last 20% of exciting books. Generally, a successful and entertaining plot. I also liked the prose, though I’m not sure I can articulate why – it’s clear and pretty and suits a magical tale. I liked having Agnieszka as the first person narrator, which probably has a lot do with why I liked the prose. Though, I would love to hear the story narrated from Kasia’s perspective!

As Novik’s author bio informs the reader, she is “a first-generation American raised on Polish fair tales and stories of Baba Yaga.” Uprooted beautifully embraces the Eastern European influence, set primarily in, it appears, an alternate Poland ( in the book).  My knowledge of Eastern European fairy tales also appears to be woefully lacking. I suspect that this work contains many allusions to older fairy stories, to source stories that I have failed to recognize. At least, even I can catch the references to Jaga.

Please noteThe next paragraph of this review contains spoilers regarding romantic relationships. Skip to The Bottom Line to avoid.

I finished this book, with great enthusiasm on January 8th. I put off writing this review because of the romance. I adored the romance (which, take note, is a minor subplot). When I told my sister “You’ll be surprised, because I actually really liked the romance in this book!”, she replied “Well, it must not be very romancy then.” The little one knows me well. Initially I couldn’t decide if I shipped Ag + Kasia or Ag + Sarkan more! (Sidenote, let the record show I kind of dislike that name, I think it makes me think of ‘snarky’, haha) I rarely feel inclined to ship, so this was a surprise. Certainly Ag + Kasia would have made for a more diverse read… I like the matter of fact, no nonsense, no pining after him or dying to be with him, attitude of Agniezska. There are clear moments when she would much rather he was there than not, but she didn’t need him (I feel this girl, haha). I yearned for them to get together. When he doesn’t make a move and clearly should have I was like, AUGGGGGH, and I squished my face. Then I was so pleased when Agnieszka took charge. Here finally is a protagonist I can relate to when it comes to matter of romance. But…(and here is where I’m going to go out on a limb and try to unravel my thoughts on this even if it would be easier to not say anything) I don’t want to say I find Ag relatable because I also know, intellectually at least, that this is a problematic relationship. The relationship definitely has Stockholm syndrome about it even though Agnieszka doesn’t experience a typical kidnapping. I don’t want to make excuses for Sarkan. He’s clearly an ass most of the time. Why do I feel that their romance works? So, I’ve been trying to reconcile whether I can enjoy this romance or if I ‘should’ be embarrassed by the fact that I enjoyed and supported it. I would be concerned about Agnieszka if she were my friend in real life and introduced Sarkan to me. But then – this is fiction, fantasy. I understand such a relationship might be problematic in real life. Should this understanding hinder my enjoyment of the tale? And now I’ve thought myself into a big scramble, trying to answer the question “What do I do if I like something problematic?” For me alone, enjoying this book doesn’t bother anyone. Whether this kind of romance has a greater cultural impact is not really a question I want to concern myself with at this time. It’s okay to just have fun reading a book…right? That’s the real question. Well, that’s what I want to do, whether it’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, I just want to enjoy this book, so I think I’ll stop here. Let me know what you think, especially if you think I’m out of line.

Whoo, there’s a load off my chest 😛 Moving on. Was this book wonderful enough for me to get into Novik’s other books? *checks descriptions* Hrm, no, I like my fantasy straight up, with no historical muddlings. If Novik ever ventures into ‘pure’ fantasy territory again, I’ll be sure to delve in. But for now I’ll be content with this book.

The Bottom Line:  An enjoyable fantasy unburdened by serious romance. Recommended if you like this sort of thing, even if you’re perhaps often disappointed by other fantasy novels. 

Further Information: 

  • Great review! I skipped over the major spoiler but I’ve been reading so many great reviews about this book, I can’t wait to read it at some point…soon xD I think the biggest selling point for me is how it utilises Eastern European folklore and cultural elements.

    • Thank-you! I think you’ll enjoy this one. It’s made me interested in flipping through the Russian fairy tales collection I have from university (I know Russia is not the same as Poland……but it’s the book I’ve got on hand :P).

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