Book Review: “Uprooted” by Naomi Novik

 

Title: Uprooted

Author: Naomi Novik

Genre: High Fantasy

Rating: ****

 

This is one of those books that’s been on my radar for a while, but for some reason it kept getting pushed down my TBR pile. Having finally gotten to it, I seriously regret the hold up.

I grew up on old, Germanic fairy-tales, courtesy of my Grandma who lived near Hamelin for almost twenty years. She put me to bed with myths and legends of The Black Forest, and the stories of the Brothers Grimm, and not the nice, cutesy versions, either. I found the echoes of those stories throughout Uprooted, worked artfully through the plot, the language, and the characters, and I fell in love.

The premise was one that felt familiar to me as a lover of both folklore and fantasy novels; a plain, village girl who lives on the outskirts of an enchanted and dangerous forest faces an enforced selection day by the local lord to live for ten years in his service. Everyone expects the lord to choose the beautiful, clever, and multi-talented best friend of said girl, but, shockingly, he does not. He takes the awkward, plain girl instead.

It doesn’t sound exciting at all when you say it that way, but trust me, that’s only chapter one, and from there onwards Naomi Novik turns all preconceptions of the plot on their head. The story is dark and woven with magic and mystery, and it kept me guessing throughout. Nothing was how I expected it to be once I got past the safety of that first chapter, and it utterly thrilled me.

For example, the main character, Agnieszka, begins the book being clumsy, messy, and afraid. What I liked most about her progression through the story was that rather than changing these aspects about her until she became more like her best friend, Kasia, she harnesses her flaws in a positive manner instead. By the end of the book she is still clumsy, messy, and afraid, but she embraces these parts of herself and becomes strong in all the very best ways.

Kasia herself was a wonderful side-character who defied my own expectations of what her role in the story would be. It would have been unrealistic to expect that there would be no jealousy between the two girls, given the situation they grew up in together and how it all ended. I was pleased when that jealousy was addressed as something completely natural, and that their relationship only strengthened from the experience.

I had half expected it to be a romance, but was pleasantly surprised to find that while there was a definite sub-plot, that was all. The dynamic between Agnieszka and Sarkan was interesting and I didn’t dislike it, but I was much more invested in the relationship between her and Kasia. I felt like the love between them was so genuine, it was a shame that the romantic subplot wasn’t theirs. Honestly I was disappointed by the missed opportunity, but perhaps that’s just me.

Aside from that, the book was perfect. The pace was quick, the plot gripping, the characters enchanting, and the language beautiful. I’ll definitely be looking up more work by this author.

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