Saturday, March 14, 2015

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I loved Uprooted by Naomi Novik. It’s an original fairy tale populated with well-developed characters. The world building is fabulous. The author uses unfamiliar words, but not too many, and the story feels like a fairy tale told in a European country. The plot took turns I did not expect, and some elements of fairy tales were turned upside down. The first time the heroine, Agnieszka, meets the Prince, he assumes it is okay to bed her and she knocks him out with a breakfast tray. Only the wizard’s magic saves his life. The wizard teaches Agnieszka a spell that dresses her in beautiful ballgowns; she learns to mumble the word so it will dress her in something practical and comfortable instead.

Agnieszka lives in Dvernik, one of a few small towns near a scary Wood. The witches and wizards in this realm take on new names that reflect their magical personalities. The wizard who lives near her hometown is called the Dragon. He uses his magic to help the towns, and, most importantly, he protects them from the evil Wood. Every 10 years he takes one girl from the villages to live alone with him in his tower. No one really knows what life is like for those girls for those 10 years; when the girls are released, they leave the village.

He chooses a girl who is 17, and there are 11 girls to choose from when Agnieszka
 is 17. He always takes the most special girl, and everyone has always assumed he will take the intelligent, talented, beautiful Kasia, Agnieszka’s best friend. But when the day comes, he takes Agnieszka instead of Kasia. Although she doesn’t know it, Agnieszka has magic in her. So does this story.

The main character is presented as clumsy and often wearing stains of food and dirt. This seems like a tired characteristic, but it comes in to play in an unexpected way as the story moves on. The author delves into how people feel. How Kasia felt, knowing she was expected to be the one the Dragon took. How Agnieszka felt, fearing the loss of her best friend but relieved thinking it wouldn’t be her that was taken. How Kasia’s mother felt, pulling away from her daughter in anticipation of the loss.

But the story also has plenty of action as well – battles between armies, struggles against the Wood. The author has no qualms about developing characters and then killing them off. We are not left to wonder why the Wood is evil; there is a good explanation, and we hear all about it before the end of the book. The book straddles the line between young adult and adult fiction. It feels like the author didn’t care – she wrote her story and the readers can decide who wants to read it. That felt refreshing.

Uprooted has a strong female lead, but the male characters are not portrayed as weak in comparison. There is a romance, but it’s not the primary focus of the story. The Dragon is not as fleshed out as Agnieszka and Kasia, but I got a real sense of his personality. Hopefully there will be sequels, and we’ll get to know him better. (At this time, however, the author says the book is a standalone title.)

I am a fan of Novik’s Temeraire series (which the Galesburg Public Library owns in several formats), but this book is entirely different. I would not have guessed it was written by the same author. I highly recommend Uprooted to anyone in the least intrigued by its premise.

I read an advance reader copy from Uprooted is scheduled to be published in May 2015. The cover is not great, if it's the final cover. I don't think it conveys the depth of the story.

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