Joint Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Publisher: Del Rey and Macmillan
Where did you get the book: ARCs from publishers
Reviewers: Lou and Marlene
Release date: May 19th

Naomi Novik, author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed Temeraire novels, introduces a bold new world rooted in folk stories and legends, as elemental as a Grimm fairy tale.

“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.”

uprootedAgnieszka 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.

*blurb taken from Goodreads*

Lou: When I received this paper-arc I was so excited. Then the excitement turned to nervousness because I was unsure of what the book would entail and if there would be a satisfying conclusion (in romance terms, a HEA). I love fantasy but I love my happy endings. It’s with great relief and happiness that I can announce, my fellow romance readers, you can read this book without the same fears I had. Uprooted was an enthralling and magical fantasy read that had me staying up way past my bedtime just so I can read one page (maybe a hundred **grins**) more. Agnieszka is a wonderful heroine who goes on her own personal journey from scared young woman to a powerful and confident witch. While I think the dark and twisted Woods plot is sometimes overused, I loved Novik’s take. The dark and evil presence of the Woods lended itself to a very dark and tragic read at times.

Marlene: Now that I’ve finished this, I understand why Uprooted was voted the number one pick for Library Reads in May. This story was absolutely incredible from beginning to end – especially because all the things that you expect in the beginning are completely subverted by the end. I couldn’t put this one down. Not only was I up until 3 am, but I carried it around all the next day so that I could snatch-read a few pages whenever I had a spare minute. Eventually I just gave in and forgot about everything else I was supposed to do that day so I could finish.

Unlike Lou, I wasn’t quite as fixed on a romantic HEA as I was a satisfying ending of any kind. I can’t say how grateful I am that the author chose NOT to “commit trilogy.” Uprooted has some delightful, and frightful, twists and turns, but when you close the last page you know that Agnieszka’s story has come to its rightful conclusion. And there’s a romantic HEA too!

For those of you are fellow fantasy readers, I can tell you that Uprooted is a powerful fantasy that subverts many tropes in a terrific way, and that while it does also have a romance, it is a fully-developed fantasy world with both high magic and political skullduggery enough to warm the heart of any epic fantasy fan.

Lou: I literally got swept away into the story and Uprooted most definitely deserves to be a number one pick read so yay. What surprised me the most was instead of the Dragon, whose real name is Sarkan, being the mentor, Agnieszka ended up playing a teacher role when her magical abilities come to the forefront. Her powers and how she worked them were opposite to what Sarkan had known all his life. His grumpiness was sort of endearing, though he was incredibly cutting in his insults in the beginning of the book. Their relationship is one of mutual dislike and also mutual unwanted attraction lol. I was incredibly happy with the romantic elements in this book, and though there is a huge age gap between Sarkan and Agnieszka, I didn’t feel as if there was a huge imbalance.

Marlene: Agnieszka is a marvelous heroine who is all too easy to identify with. She is very human in her hopes, her fears, her dreams and especially her frustrations. Every time she gets struck down, and it’s pretty often in the beginning, she picks herself up, dusts herself off, and starts hunting for another solution.

In a way, I hate saying this, but there is an element of Elsa from Frozen in Agnieszka. In a good way, I promise. Agnieszka discovers that she is a witch, not by any formal teaching, but by finding her own way of magic, which is not the rote and regimented type of magic that the Dragon practices. There are many times in the story where Agnieszka has to go her own way and against the accepted wisdom in order to find a solution, and she finds the strength to fight that fight over and over again.

Lou: At one point I wondered if Agnieszka’s ease of power and her knowledge was a little too easy. She ended up learning these new great powers with ease and I did think she was just a little too perfect in that regard. But like Marlene said above, she had enormous strength, especially when it came to battling and not giving up hope against The Woods. The Woods was this malevolent force that lended itself to imaginative creatures, such as the Walkers, and massive praying mantis creatures that literally bit off heads. Both Sarkan and Agnieszka were united in keeping The Woods from spreading. There were other secondary characters who made a huge impact. I adored Kaisa and I have my fingers crossed that Novik returns to this world and we see more of her. I also want to see more of Sarkan and Agnieszka and how their relationship works out because he’s not an easy man, or wizard, to like, let alone love.

Marlene: Sarkan the Dragon reminds me of Beauty and the Beast, but a sideways version where the Beast is Severus Snape from Harry Potter. It’s not that Sarkan is ugly, because he isn’t, but because he has holed himself in his Tower much the way that the Beast has in Beauty, except that the Dragon’s seclusion is something that he has chosen for himself, for magical reasons that become evident in the story.

And Sarkan is supposed to teach Agnieszka about her magic and how to use it. He really does want to teach her, but he has no idea how to go about it. His “deskside manner” as a teacher is every bit as bad as Snape’s, without the possibility of unspeakable curses in the “classroom”. The Dragon never tells her what he’s trying to do, or why he’s trying to do it. He just barks orders and expects her to intuit the answer from the barking. He’s lucky she didn’t brain him with a food tray in a fit of anger.

Lou: Hah! Many times in the beginning of the story I wanted to bash him in myself. He was so ornery and so cutting. Obviously he had spent way too much time alone in his tower and his socialising left much to be desired. Though they had troubles adapting to each other on a personal level, their magic connected beautifully and there was such a lovely scene that spoke and I believe hinted at how deep their connection could go on a personal level. Both of course became very awkward, and what I loved about this book is that it does delve into dark territories. I had no idea who would survive. There was one character that I loathed and worried about a little, and that was Prince Marek. At one point I was concerned that his character was becoming too heroic after a very disturbing and troubling scene with Agnieszka in which he forced himself on her.

Marlene: Speaking of tropes, the way that the Dragon picks Agnieszka, and the whole ten-year tribute ritual, is a subversion of every single story where the village stakes out a sacrificial virgin for the monster. This Dragon is just a man, and it turns out that nothing about this tribute is exactly as it seems.

Another fascinating part of the story is that there are no evil people. There’s no personalized villain. There is an evil that needs to be fought, but it isn’t people. People get misled (frequently) and do the wrong thing for all sorts of motives, including self-aggrandizement, but there is no “Big Bad” like Sauron. The fight is every bit as exciting and every bit as dangerous, but questions of “good” versus “evil” are much more diffuse than they usually are in epic fantasy.

Not that there aren’t a few asshats. But then, normal people can be asshats without being the big bad EVIL.

Lou: It was such a surprise to find out things were not as they seemed when it came down to the big baddie. The Woods did despicable acts of violence to people and manipulated everything around it into a warped and twisted version. Now that I think about it, The Woods was a master manipulator but what drove it into it’s dark form came right down to matters of the heart.

Marlene: In conclusion, I have to say that I loved this book, and I hope that Naomi Novik does more fantasy. Although the ending wrapped up the personal angles of the story a bit fast, it was still a satisfying ending with all the plot threads wrapped up that still left a couple of possible avenues for more stories in this world. If you like slightly fractured fairy tales, epic fantasy or fantasy romance, you will have an absolute blast with Uprooted.

I give Uprooted an enthusiastic A.

Lou: Like Marlene said above, I hope the author does more fantasy novels because Uprooted was such a delight to read. I wasn’t a big fan of the ending. After all the build-up between Sarkan and Agnieszka (including a love scene that surprised me in a good way) I thought the ending was a little abrupt. Maybe the author will return to this world and we’ll see how the Dragon and Agnieszka work as a team.

I also give Uprooted an A.

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3 thoughts on “Joint Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik”

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