Uprooted

Uprooted Book Cover Uprooted
Naomi Novik
Fantasy
Del Rey
May 19, 2015
Paperback
435

“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.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

 

I consider myself a pretty big Naomi Novik fan. After all, her other books have each been fantastic. Before even starting Uprooted though, audience reactions seemed mixed. And after reading the book, I can see why. While it might be a stretch to say this is overall a weak book, it seems to be Naomi Novik’s weakest book. But not without cause. While I admittingly have not read her short stories, before this her focus was the Temeraire series. And that series is alternate history. Sure, there are dragons, but any semblance of magic stops there. Uprooted was her first published crack at a truly magical world.

So overall this is a pretty standard ‘Chosen One’ story. This being the version where instead of fate or destiny picking the hero, they are chosen by a person. In this case, a wizard. And like in many worlds where magic is more of a rarity than anything else, it is largely misunderstood. Unfortunately, this spills over into audience perception as well. Even by the end of the book, it is not 100% clear how magic really works. The only real requirements seem to be knowing the right magic words and having the sheer willpower and raw talent to pull it off. The low number of wizards is justified in that many people can learn magic, but spell ingredients are expensive.

Then we get to the characters. There are two chief ones, the protagonist Agnieszka and her mentor The Dragon. Agnieszka is a clumsy village girl who never really aspired towards anything on her own. The Dragon is an ancient wizard who has spent a bit too much time alone in his tower away from people. They are such opposites that the dynamic between them in the first half of the book is great as the master-student relationship slowly but fully flowers.

Then you get to the second half of the book. The chief complaint here, and I agree, is that things move too fast. Readers are thrust from this small-scale village setting to a full kingdom. Suddenly the book is filled with classic fantasy tropes: medieval fantasy nobles squabbling, a threat from a rival kingdom, dark mysterious woods full of monsters and evil things, and so forth. The pacing gets turned up to 11 as we go from simple, daily life to a fate-of-the-kingdom/world scenario. It felt like this story was meant for more than one book and was shaven down to the key bullet points to squeeze everything in. That’s not to say Uprooted is a bad book, it’s not, but it could have been more.

June 7, 2020

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