Uprooted by Naomi Novik was my first read of 2017, and I’m so glad it was. Novik built a fantasy world that was both comfortable and familiar to read (thankfully as I was very ill at the start of the year) whilst also exploring the world in a deep way through a wonderfully relateable character. I really don’t even know where to begin with this book I enjoyed it so much.
At first I admittedly had some difficulty getting into this book. Novik’s style wasn’t really one that encouraged suspense or a strong desire in me, so though I found the book interesting whenever I put it down I felt no real call to pick it back up again. However, the book worked a different kind of magic (excuse the pun) and I found that when I did find the time to pick it up I was unable to put it back down for hours at a time. And even now, weeks after having finished it, I don’t feel I’ve really put it down, I think about this book almost daily. I’m afraid it’s set the bar for this years fantasy reads very high.
I don’t want to make this review too long but I have so much to say about this book, so please bear with me.
The book takes place in a small town, next to a dark, magical wood, where a dragon takes a young girl every ten years, pretty standard right? Except the dragon is really a man, a wizard, and there is so much more going on than you think. As much as I’d love to spoil this book and tell you everything about it I’ll try not to spoil it and tell only a few things that were of interest to me.
First of all, I really loved the main character; Agnieszka. She wasn’t a beautiful princess in disguise, she wasn’t a chosen one with a destiny, she was the daughter of a woodcutter who got mixed up in some things and had to do some stuff. She was clumsy, imperfect, angry, and overall a truly relateable and well rounded female character. Novik’s use of Agnieszka is what made her even more impressive, she had a strong sense of friendship and loyalty, she wasn’t played off against any other female characters and expressly made sure to love and care for them, she had an excellent approach to sex (in case you were wondering this is a refreshing rape-free fantasy), and surprisingly had her own motives for being heroic other than just having her moral compass pointing firmly north. Essentially, I loved this character.
Secondly, I really enjoyed how Novik used magic and described how it was used. She clearly drew a lot of inspiration from Baba Yaga, one of my favourite witches in the history of witches, and made the magic so interesting and believable. I won’t go too much into this but there was a distinction between wizards and witches that had been trained and were rather upper-class, and wizards and witches who were distinctly lower-class and had a much stronger connection to the forest driven hedge-witchery of Baba Yaga. Which brings me onto my next point…
Yes ladies and gentleman and non-binary folk, my favourite subject. I won’t say much about this because spoilers, but the book has a magical wood and a pretty strong distinction between the city-folk magic and the rural-folk magic, so keep an eye out for that if you are hoping to give it a read.
All in all this book was pretty impressive, though I found it slow to start it was a beautifully written book, and it was quite firmly in my comfort zone… my comfort zone being witches.