Sunday, July 12, 2015

Review: Uprooted

by Naomi Novik

Format: Hardcover, 439 pages
Publisher: Del Rey
Cover Art: Scott McKowen
Release Date: May 19, 2015
ISBN-13: 978-0804179034

"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."

Uprooted is a fairly well written and compelling fairytale story.  The world is compelling as well, and seems to be derived from the author's Polish ancestry instead of the usual Western European tradition. 

One of the interesting things about this novel is that while the story is basically a fairytale, the author gives the characters complexity to make it much interesting.  With the exception of the Wood, no one in this story is black and white.  And nowhere is this more evident than in the relationship between the main character and her best friend.  Their friendship is probably the core of the novel and it remains strong despite how much the two of them change.  

For all the praise this novel has been getting, I ended up not liking this as nearly as much as everyone else seemed to.  I had two big problems with Uprooted.  First was the plot.  A fairytale benefits from a single, straightforward structure, and while Uprooted does keep to the single plot of the struggle against the Wood, there are numerous sub-plots that bog the story down.  This book is nearly 440 pages and it feels way too long.  Also, the basis for the Wood's corrupting influence feels a bit out of left field, though I suppose it works.  

Secondly, the magic doesn't make much sense.  I could never figure how it was suppose to work.  My personal opinion is that a magic system should have some kind of rules and it does after a fashion, but it feels like Novik never uses it consistently. 

The main character's use of magic is another problem.  A big deal is made about how the main character can't be trained to use magic like everyone else because she can only go by instinct and intuition.  A lot of people liked this bit, but it really annoyed me.  Especially when she blithely ignores centuries of accumulated magical knowledge on the basis that most of it is useless to her.  It just feels like another excuse to make the character special. 

So, while Uprooted was only a decent read for me, I always give a book points because I can acknowledge that it works for others. In fact, I seem to be much in the minority on this one and that's fine.  Maybe Novik no longer works for me as an author, but plenty of people do seem to enjoy this book so on that basis I can recommend it.

Rating: 7/10.

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