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Naomi Novik’s “Uprooted”: Friendship, Magic, and Adventure!

– Posted in: Fantasy Book Reviews

Wow! Don’t Want to Give Anything Away

I love Naomi Novik’s young adult fantasy novel Uprooted. I’m excited about reviewing it, but I don’t want to give too much away because I want you to read it.

Uprooted won the Nebula Award for best novel, is a finalist for a Hugo Award, and on NPR’s Best Books of the Year List

A Little About Slavic Fairy Tales

I promise this will be painless and hopefully interesting.

Slavic fairy tales aren’t as well known as Western European tales. Most of us are familiar with Greek, Roman, German, English, French fairy tales. We’ve grown up with them, and Disney has made many of them into films. One of the major distinctions between the two is that most western tales have been restructured for children. Anyone who has read some of The Grimm Brothers’ Tales knows what I mean. American filmmakers aren’t going to show cinderella’s stepsisters chopping off their toes to fit into the glass slipper.

Slavic tales weren’t written down in their pre-Christian form so many of originals were lost to us. These tales are rooted in pagan beliefs and superstitions. The spirits aren’t as clearly good or evil as our western tales. Like the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, they could both help and hinder people.

I’m bring this up because Uprooted is definitely rooted in Slavic folk tales. The story is set in Polnya (Poland). The local wizard is named Dragon, and Baba Yaga, a famous character in Slavic tales, is mentioned several times in the story.

A Brief Summary

Naomi Novik’s “Uprooted”: Friendship, Magic, Danger, and Adventure!

Not sure why were are two covers, but they both reflect the story.

Here’s how the book begins:

“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 and Kasia grow up together, knowing they will be parted. Once every ten years, Dragon chooses a girl to take for ten years. All the girls return well educated and dressed in fineries, but they don’t stay in their village. The village assumes this year, Dragon will take Kasia because she’s beautiful, smart, and sweet. This is a fairy tales, so of course, he chooses Agnieszka, who turns out to have some magical powers of her own.

There’s a problem in the Woods. It’s not a subtle problem; something very evil is in the forest trying to take over all of Polnya. Dragon has devoted his life to fighting the forest, and now Agnieszka and eventually Kasia becomes part of this rather epic battle with scary evil. The rest of the book is a roller coster ride that plunges the characters into deeper and deeper trouble.

What I Love about this Book

  • The writing is lovely, detailed, full of imagery, and magic.
  • I love books that have strong bonds between female characters. This story is a keeper.
  • The details of the magic and the world building are vivid, complete, and subtle.
  • The forest was scary to the point of being terrifying. Definitely someplace I’d never want to go.
  • I felt as if I were caught up in a fairy tale, transported to another time and place. There is something horrific about fairy tales, and this book captures that essence.
  • The book is action packed and keeps rolling along with enough twists and turns to fill a number of novels. Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, they do.
  • There are plenty of wrong headed characters, who do things that make me cringe, knowing the outcome is going to be terrible. Sometimes it’s Agnieszka who blunders into a mess.

I completely enjoyed this story. There is a love story. The kind I like between two difficult people who don’t quite know how to communicate. I saw a few reviews that didn’t think Dragon’s character was fully developed and that he didn’t change. I didn’t feel this way for three reasons:

  • He’s a few hundred years old, and I assume change would be slow in coming, if ever;
  • I’m always leery of story in which a man or woman changes radically because they are in love; it doesn’t ring true with my experience–that kind of change is superficial and will fade when the “newness and euphoria” of falling in love fades into a steady love;
  • It’s a fairytale. Do we believe the Beast is less beastly because Beauty fell in love? I think not, she didn’t transform him into a handsome man, she fell in love with the beast and now sees him as handsome, and, perhaps, she helps to socializes him.

What I Wasn’t Crazy About

Yes, even in books I love, the critic in me comes out.

  • Although I found the writing lovely, there were a few times I wanted to get on with the story and cut to the chase. In those places, I found myself skimming.
  • Several times, especially when Agniezka first goes to the tower, I found myself frustrated by the characters’ lack of communication, and specifically Agnieszka’s quiet acceptance of people’s behavior. A few simple question would have cleared up a lot of misconceptions and moved the story along a little faster. If she’s going to be quiescent, I need a strong reason for an otherwise bold character to keep quiet. Especially with Dragon, I would have liked to see her demand some basic answers.
  • Sometimes, I found myself longing for some dialogue. The book is dense with lovely prose and short on dialogue.

Last thoughts

The book is wonderful. If you like fantasy, fairy tales, magic, and plenty of action, this might be a good read for you. Get it. Read it. Have fun.

The Usual Reminders

If you’ve read Uprooted, what do you think?

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