Published by Del Rey on May 19, 2015
Genres: adult, fairy tale, fantasy
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Naomi Novik, author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed Temeraire novels, introduces a bold new world rooted in folk stories and legends, as elemental as a Grimm fairy tale.
“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”
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 an adult fantasy well worth your time. Layla and I both added it to our “all time favorite” shelves and adore the dark, fairy tale explorations of this story. Please join us for this fun review discussion! If you’re a fantasy reader and we haven’t convinced you to read this book by the end of our discussion we’ll eat our hats. Let’s dive in.
Kim: You know, it’s been several years, but I finally found a new book to add to my all-time favorites shelf. This book is so enchanting and warm and lovely while also being darkly comedic and deliciously creepy. There is just a beautiful glow to this story which reads like an old school Eastern European fairy tale.
Layla: I mean, you know I feel precisely the same way. I can’t remember the last time I loved something quiiiite this much. I kept on desperately checking the page count and not wanting the number to get any higher – 40% of the way through, you say? Noooooo. It reminded me a lot of reading fantasy as a teen – I was totally absorbed by this book and fell in love with the super skillful world-building. Even now, I want to read the book again for the first time. And since I can’t do that, other people should do it for me. ::meaningful looks::
Kim: I adored how ghoulishly creepy this book was. I mean, all I need to hear is that there is a wicked, sentient forest and I’m sold. But it truly was a very, very evil forest. The imagination and scope of the intensely dark Wood (and all its minions and creatures) is impressive. A sentient wood that can possess people! *creepy smile* And I loveddddd the part where the trees tore apart a soldier and used his blood to sprinkle its roots. I am just dark and twisted in that way. Plus, who would ever guess that an evil forest could have such a compelling and fully fleshed out back story?
Layla: Haha, I love how much you take delight in this! This book was actually horrifying to me on that level. Like, the Wood is creepy from the get-go, but its creepiness only intensifies as you start to get perspectives other than Agnieszka’s on the matter. Agnieszka is biased! I see your creepy Wood example and will show you mine: it’s that moment when one dude just turns and cuts another dude’s throat and IS SMILING and it happens without any warning so, don’t worry, you won’t see it coming until it does. Whatever, I was legit terrified by this book in places. I distinctly remember breaking out in a cold sweat and not being able to sleep because what if I dreamt of trees?! To quote Taylor Swift, “the monsters turned out to be just trees,” but that in and of itself is NIGHTMARE FUEL.
I did also like the back story, btw. While I was reading it, I wondered if the novel was going to head towards some sort of message like, “This is what happens when you mess with Nature, guys,” and I was really pleased when it didn’t (not because I dislike that message, but because the book is kind of wonderfully complicated and I wanted something different).
Kim: Ah yes. Smiling out of nowhere murder was another great moment. *smiles in creepy fond remembrance* I also really enjoy how it possesses people and also turns them into monstrous creatures. So many Evil Wood favs! Collect them all! And that is a superb point about the messaging. Pretty much nothing in this book takes the obvious tack and I loved it so much for that and its often moral ambiguity.
Layla: ALL THOSE POOR COWS, KIM. View Spoiler »And the moment where Agnieska kind of realizes that part of the reason everyone in her village stays near the creepy Wood is because they’ve been drinking creepy Wood water and the Wood is making them want to stay? « Hide Spoiler Anyway. Yes, everyone, please feel free to come back and share your Favorite Evil Wood Moment once you’ve read this. There are so many! And all equally terrifying.
With regards to the moral ambiguity in the book – yes, for sure. Especially around characters I initially hated? Like the second princeling, Prince Marek, and the Falcon. She doesn’t make it easy for you to stick with your snap judgments about anything, I think.
Kim: While technically an adult book, this is really a great crossover read for both mature teens and adults who enjoy the style and excitement of YA. Agnieszka is a teenager, but the book is very much about her journey from naive village girl to empowered, magic wielding heroine. I adored her wry humor, her sharp wit, and her talent and growth as a person. But she is also super fallible and makes a lot of mistakes. Such a human and relatable character. I really love that cover because the unfolding, glowing magical flower is such a lovely metaphor for Agnieszka’s own blossoming (yes, I’m continuing the tree/flower organic growth motif).
Layla: Agnieszka is wonderful. She is the feminist heroine of my dreams. Can we talk about how great all of the development around her finding her own magic was? This is … probably my own interests rearing their many heads, but I liked the comparisons between magic and experimental science? There’s the Dragon, who is all rule-following and “do these steps in this particular way” and a lover of method and order, and yeah, it gets the job done for him. And he’s used to thinking about his own magic in relationship to established practices, when along comes Agnieska, who totally disrupts his ways of knowing the world around him and presents him with an alternative form of magic (one as equally rooted in the past, that’s also rigorous, but is about, like, a different kind of knowing). I loved this.
Kim: I pretty much loved this only for the way it totally made the Dragon sputter and put him in his place. And also the idea of Agnieszka carving her own path in this incredibly complicated and overwhelming world she was suddenly thrown into. She’s totaaaallly better than you, Dragon. *insert deal with it gif*
Layla: But their magic together is best of all! (Relationship magic, but also … magic magic.)
Kim: Agnieszka’s relationship with her best friend, Kasia, was also superbly portrayed. It was often messy and complicated, and certainly never perfect. But it always felt intensely real. I loved that Novik wasn’t afraid to examine how we sometimes think ugly things and hold unfair resentments toward even the ones we love the most. There is a good amount of supernatural evil in this book, but I adored how we are also faced with the conflict of the more banal darkness that even very good people can hold in their hearts.
Layla: You’ve said this so perfectly. I can’t add anything to that except to say that I also felt like it was a really emotionally honest portrayal of an intimate friendship. And I love that they’re forced to see their very real affection for each other as well as all of the petty resentments between them, and acknowledge that it doesn’t mean they love the other any less. That really hit home for me.
I would also like to say how much I loved Kasia as a character. Her emotional development was very much front and center in this story for me as well. Like, yes, Agnieska becomes a magic-wielding ace, but Kasia becomes a badass, too! She’s been raised to think that her looks and feminine skillzors are the most important thing about her and that they will, for better or for worse, make her the Dragon’s sacrifice. But by the end of the novel? People think she’s an invulnerable warrior-queen, aww yiss! I would love a sequel to this story or more in this world just to know what happens to her *after* she becomes your favorite thing in the entire universe. View Spoiler » A captain of the guard, obviously. « Hide Spoiler In my mind she is Britomart from the Faerie Queene now. That is all.
Kim: Omg that is my very favorite thing in the universe. But do you think she’s unemotional enough for me? I need someone who just really keeps all their feelings so closely guarded. *whispers* Because when they finally let their guard down it’s the bessssssssssst.
Layla: Ahahahaha. Someone write crossover fic where Kasia and Chaol meet and become bros and she helps him work through his feelings and they spar and sometimes she accidentally hits him too hard. Chaol needs a good friend now more than ever.
Kim: Someone please make this happen. I need it in life. But okay, let’s talk the ship because I LOVED THIS SHIP SO MUCH. I really, truly love my stolid unemotionals and The Dragon (who is not an actual dragon, that’s just his cool wizard name) was perfect in that. There is a definite Beauty and Beast feel at times. The Dragon is such a jerk in the beginning of the story and, uh, wtf, dude. You can’t just take girls from their families for ten years?? For shady, mysterious and unknown purpose? No. Their relationship goes from active dislike, to grudging respect, to friendship, to finally more. And its development is just magical and a joy to behold. I love how they come to understand and respect each other. I just adore when one partner can bring the humanity back into a stolid unemotional. Plus, it is steamy. So steamy. Oh bless you, Naomi Novik for giving us the sexy, adult fantasy that we deserve.
Layla: ::fans self:: I have some slow claps for Naomi Novik for making me love a ship that I did not think I was going to love. In the first fifty pages or so, I did not see how The Dragon was going to become a valid love interest because, hey, he’s a super-demanding jerk who snatches girls from their homes every ten years (and while all of the girls swear he never touches them, it seems like an open question for the village, which is horrifying). I liked that Novik doesn’t downplay his jerkiness – he is legit awful, but does eventually undergo a believable transformation that really worked for me and satisfied all of my many questions and concerns (no easy feat). And, yes, that ship is one I am shipping SO HARD. It does also help that their scenes are chock-full of unresolved sexual tension … View Spoiler » Until they aren’t! And for anyone that is wondering, hey Layla, shouldn’t this crazy age difference bother you? I KNOW. But it didn’t! Maybe it’s because Agnieszka is going to live for-ev-er and they are going to be together, forever, in love. « Hide Spoiler
Kim: I hate jerk guys. I hate them. I hate redemption arcs. I hate everything about putting an awful person in front of a totally decent heroine and asking readers to buy into him. I loved this ship. That is witchcraft, Novik! But you’re right. She really does a great job. I think it works because the transformation is both slow and the romance is also not in the front seat of the story. There are so many other things, both plot wise and character development-wise going on, that when a genuine connection between A and the Dragon comes about it feels totally natural because it is natural. They’ve been slowly drawing closer together and you never even noticed. ALSO, one of my favorite tropes is when shipmates team up to go out and be bad asses together and fight the forces of evil.
Layla: It is absolutely a slow-burn romance, which really helps? And it’s not the focus of the novel, so yeah, you don’t necessarily notice them growing closer and closer until they’re there, and then, daw, my heart burst with joy. And oh, that reminds me: I also liked that even though the Dragon thinks Agnieszka’s making poor choices, he supports her in them. He doesn’t necessarily understand how her magic works – and even at points thinks she is doomed to failure – but he does try to help her anyway.
Kim: As a note to your spoiler, I will say that I think the age difference doesn’t feel like an issue because, yes, Agnieszka also has an extended life span (that’s not a spoiler, don’t worry peeps) and also because her magic is at least equal, if not better than his. They’re peers and equals in a way that supernaturally age different couples usually aren’t. This book is just the best.
Layla: I ship it so hard, Kim! The power dynamics felt ok to me, too. Some final thoughts on the cleverness of the title? Because Jesus Christ, I was thinking about this constantly while reading. I really loved how its meaning shifted in ways that were always surprising and interesting to me; I had only to think that I’d nailed the meaning down and gotten it when, bam, new meanings emerged! I love that experience of being unsettled as a reader (which, I mean, obviously happens on one level with creepy forest, but it’s another entirely to have your expectations continually challenged and thrown out of whack).
Kim: I think you’re going to have walk me through this one. I understand the meaning of Agnieszka being uprooted from her home and forced into the Dragon’s tower. And I understand its meaning in context of the Wood. I also understand the Wood has creepy Wood creatures that uproot themselves and go out and be evil. What am I missing?
Layla: Oh, I mean, like basically that. When I started reading the story, I was like, AHA, I get it, she’s being uprooted from her family. And then I was like, “NO WAIT it’s about wanting to push back the evil forest,” and then there are the creepy Wood creatures that also uproot themselves, and the heart-trees, and the spoilery stuff that happens at the end. Maybe I am a weirdo for thinking about this constantly, but it’s rare that a title seems, like, so perfect to me. I just liked that it brings together a lot of the things I loved in this book – people changing each other! adventure! travel! creepy woods! learning new things about yourself! Woo.
Kim: Okay, I get it now. So what you’re saying is that this book is just basically Book Heaven. Yeah, I feel you on that
So what were your favorite parts? Was it all of them? Because mine were all of them.
Kim: Literally all of the parts. Good to know we share these sentiments! :D
Kim: 5 stars. 5 plus a million stars if that was a rating I could actually award. Thank you for being creepy, and full of bad ass ladies, and also full of magic and romance. You were all of the best things, book. And you deserve the best things.
Layla: I would like to take all the stars in the universe and make that my rating for this book. A BAJILLION STARS TO YOU, BOOK. If I were a sentient forest, I would possess all of you and make you read this book. My final thoughts also include the very reasonable wish that Naomi Novik write a sequel. Or two. In the meantime, I am going to go read the rest of the Temeraire books (a.k.a. Master and Commander (Now with 100% More Dragons)).
Have we convinced you that you need this book’? Are we terribly wrong and you shouldn’t waste your time with any wicked forests??? (whyever not!!) We’re always looking for your feedback and appreciate all comments so do please tell us!
Advance copies were provided by the publisher for this joint review.