Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Uprooted Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Naomi Novik
Publisher: Del Rey
Genre: Young Adult, Fairytale
Series: Standalone
Pages: 448

Buy on Amazon!

(An advanced copy was provided by the publisher).

Naomi Novik’s is probably known to most people as the author of the Temeraire books, which is a fantasy series about dragonriders fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. Her book Uprooted is a standalone not set in that world. It takes the aura of a traditional fairytale, mixes in some Polish culture, and finally combines it with a coming of age/romance story … and yes there is a dragon, albeit this dragon just so happens to be a wizard that everyone calls the Dragon.

Agnieszka is a young lady that lives in a small town that lies just outside the corrupted woods. Her days are spent admiring her best friend Kasia, the town’s darling. A powerful wizard known to the town only as the Dragon keeps the woods at bay, and in return he takes one young girl from the town for a period of ten years, and the time has come again to chose another woman.

A lot of classic fairytales were written prior to the 20th century, and there are a lot of different attitudes that are conveyed back then that aren’t really conveyed today.  One of those attitudes has to deal with how nature and forests are portrayed.  Back in the day, before the time of GPS and God forbid Map Quest, getting lost in the woods could have easily been a death sentence.  As such, the woods and nature weren’t always reflected upon kindly by storytellers prior to the 20th century, and that’s why you find a lot cautionary tales about the woods in traditional fairytales.

Today’s writers glorify nature, as people in the 20th century started to sympathize with man’s continued destruction of many of the world’s green beauties. So when Novik decides to pick up on the idea that the woods should be her main antagonist in the book, it creates an interesting dichotomy between modern values and traditional fairytales.  Granted the real antagonist is corruption, the corruption is still occupied by vessels of nature. A man vs nature story where nature is the bad guy is definitely a different reading experience, and Novik is largely able to pull this off.

Agnieszka tells the story in first person, and she’s the best developed character. Oftentimes she’s the voice of reason, although she can be overly emotional. She lives with a “live for today ask questions tomorrow,” type of philosophy. The Dragon has some development issues though. He tells a few interesting stories about his past, and his motivations for deciding to live a desolate life in the corrupted woods when he could have been in the capital basking in glory. These parts are well done, but the Dragon’s romantic interest in Agnieszka comes off as very creepy, since there’s little to no reason given for this other than she’s a young woman, and he’s an old lonely man.  The romance in general in the story can come across as real off-putting, and at times feels like it was inserted in the story … just because.

The book begins like a typical teacher and apprentice type of story, but it starts to shift as Novik increases the scope of her world. Agnieska’s village is part of a larger kingdom that the Dragon serves, and the story eventually adds some political intrigue once the political aspects of how this kingdom is ruled are introduced. The magic system has rules, and reminds me of what J.K. Rowling did in Harry Potter, except spells are yelled out in Polish inspired phrases instead of pun-inspired Latin. A nice touch to the magic system is that different pronunciations have differing effects on the same spell.  With a host of new characters that enter the story about midway through, and the plot shifting frequently,  Novik makes it difficult to determine where this story will end-up.

The parts I like the most center around the battles against the woods. A lot of this has to do with evocative imagery that used. And a lot of it also has to do with the elements of horror that come into play here, not just the physical monstrosities that are created, but by the way nature’s corruption destroys the minds of some of the characters.  The action scenes can be surprisingly brutal at times, but it all works in favor of the plot.

Uprooted is ultimately a decent book, but it’s one that I expected more from.  A few elements just don’t work, especially the romance.  The rest of the issues center around some small time plot issues.  I’d recommend the book due to its being written well, but I do have some reservations.

Score: 6.9

No comments:

Post a Comment