Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Title: Uprooted
Author: Naomi Novik
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Publication date: May 19, 2015
Rating: ★★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

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.

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. 

I'm so glad I bought into the hype. In Uprooted, Naomi Novik creates characters who are compelling on their own but become even more fascinating when they start to bump up against each other.

From the start, we learn that the narrator, Agnieszka, is a hot mess. I mean this in the most loving way possible. She's not a secret beauty. She's not graceful. She's not particularly brilliant. She can't walk down the street without ripping or getting mud on her dress. She is utterly imperfect and she knows it, and what's even better is that she's comfortable in her skin.

For the majority of her life, Agnieszka has lived in the shadow of her best and dearest friend Kasia. Because of it, there's a complexity to how she looks at and relates to Kasia – and amazingly that's something we get to unpack in one of the most powerful moments in the book, when both girls' most hidden thoughts are revealed to each other in the midst of a maelstrom of magic. It really makes you think about relationships – how they're not easy, how there are insecurities and jealousies, how different people experience the world in such different ways but can still always come back together. It's moments like these that make Agnieszka and Kasia's friendship such a force to behold.

And it's not just their friendship that is extraordinary. I spent a lot of time with Uprooted on my subway commute to work, and reading about Agnieszka and the Dragon was a constant exercise in reigning in the compulsion to shriek. The Dragon is a perfect example of someone who stays true to his character but evolves with Agnieszka's influence. He's a grouchy, cranky old man – that's just who he is. But as he comes to know and understand Agnieszka, he becomes a softer version of himself. A couple years ago, an engineer friend told me something I haven't been able to forget: "Hard, brittle objects shatter. Malleable ones bend gracefully." I feel like that describes the Dragon (and his dynamic with Agenieszka) well. At first glance, they are opposites – he believes in order and method; she is a free-spirited wild child – but you come to see that they complement each other in the best way possible, her softness balancing out his hard edges. They each bend a little bit, and they both become better versions of themselves because of it.

Each of the characters in Uprooted have their own lives and their own compelling character arcs. They're not just a means to an end – they have their motivations and their histories and their flaws and their own redeeming qualities. It's that richness in characters that makes Uprooted resonate so deeply with me. And that's without even touching on the plot, the stark setting, the sinister trees, graphic battle scenes, or the terrifying deaths that feel almost psychopathic. This book is Creeptown, USA, and it's deliciously eerie.

I can't believe I'm saying it but I kind of wish this book was part of a series. I know. I know. As if there aren't enough series in the world of YA. As if I don't have a laundry list of books that I still have yet to read. But I loved these characters so much and I feel like they have more stories that are just waiting to be unraveled. I couldn't put it down and I want to read it again and soak in all the little moments that really do feel like magic.

4 comments:

  1. Great review, Tiffany! I'm really looking forward to read this one.

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  2. I kind of wish this was part of a series too! I just want a bunch of novellas, honestly, with the Dragon and the narrator (not even going to try to spell her name!) with their banter in normal life. I am so in love with their relationship and their world and everything they accomplish together! I've looked through Novik's backlist and it seems to have garnered mixed reviews, so nothing as solid as this stand-alone, but I'm really looking forward to whatever she writes next.

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    1. Novellas!!! I am supportive of this. I'm still hoping she'll just randomly surprise us all with more from the Dragon and Agnieszka's world. :P

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