Monday, June 22, 2015

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted wasn't even on my radar until I stumbled upon it on Goodreads, and then saw raves (and then even more raves) about the book on Twitter. I read the synopsis, and by then it was pretty much a given I would read the book - I mean, what else can you expect after I saw the word "dragon" in the blurb. I was convinced that this was an amazing book, and then I got to touch it at Barnes & Noble as I was buying it for a friend, and boom, I wanted the book for myself. Being the decent person that I am, I gave that copy to her, but I got myself a copy on my Kindle right after and started reading it the next day. I fell in love.

I'm a shameless romance junkie, so of course the first and foremost reason I reached for this novel was because I suspected there would be a romance between the main character Agnieszka and the Dragon (who does have a name by the way, but I'll keep it a secret since it's more fun when you find out on your own). What made this specific book so interesting is that it didn't milk that romance for all it was worth. No, in fact, it seemed to do quite the opposite. For one, the Dragon was the most churlish male character I have seen in my entire life. I was serious when I said that he could give Mr. Darcy a run for his money. I tried being annoyed at him for it, but it was so darn cute I just couldn't manage it. It was like the Dragon had been disconnected from humanity for so long - he's lived for a long time, after all - that churlishness became his resting attitude. Seeing his reaction to the unkept, clumsy Agnieszka stumbling about his castle was all the more fun to read because of his ungentlemanly demeanor. The romance puts the slow in slow burn, yet I couldn't complain. At times, it hardly seemed like the Dragon and Agnieszka were growing closer, but it soon became clear that for them, "growing closer" meant the Dragon became more tolerant of her. Not the most romantic of notions, but he genuinely began to care about her, whether or not he realized it. It was a different approach to romance, and I appreciated it.

What makes this book so astounding is that this is a stand-alone High Fantasy. I repeat: a stand-alone High Fantasy. It has been so long since I read a fantasy novel that didn't end up evolving into a trilogy, or the more recent fashion, a five or six book long series. Believe me, I love getting more books written by some of my favorite authors, but Novik's stand-alone is very refreshing. The author managed to put just the right amount of character background and curiosity into each page, and by doing this, she managed to pace the plot in a way that made sure the reader was never bored. After getting used to authors writing six books to tell the story of a single character, I really enjoyed Uprooted knowing that I had no cliffhanger to fear, and that all my questions would be answered within this book alone. Fantasy stand-alones seem to be a fading concept, and I hope that more authors will take the initiative to write more of these, because they truly are a delight.

The main character was a very unique aspect of the novel, and not least because of her hard to pronounce name. Agnieszka. I'm afraid I'm probably butchering her name every time I say it aloud in my head. Anyways, I absolutely loved her character, as we get to learn about her in so much detail. She's clumsy (funny how that's the first thing to come to mind), brave, stubborn, devoted, and loyal. She never gave up on the Dragon no matter how much he pushed her away, and in a similar fashion, she never gave up on her friends. She remained innocent and good throughout the novel, but she grew in spirit and independence through her many trials. It's fascinating how much she challenged the Dragon and everyone around her even though not many would suspect as much from a girl like her. I also love her best friend, Kasia. From the synopsis, you'd think readers would hate her, but though she and Agnieszka are extremely different, they're borne from the same cloth. There's unequaled courage in both of them, and I greatly enjoyed seeing their relationship grow stronger as the story went on.

You wouldn't think that a story where the villain is a Wood would be too interesting, but it's surprising how deep the plot went. The writing and the plot pacing lent the idea that we were reading a classic. The Wood's story was so all-encompassing that even now it's impossible not to be in awe at Novik's storytelling. The novel is so different than anything that I have ever read before, and I would recommend it to all readers, not only those who read Fantasy or Young Adult. I believe this book to be a delight to readers of every sort - Novik has created something truly beautiful, and I am so glad I was able to experience it.

P.S. For any who were wondering, the Dragon is but a person. He can do magic; unfortunately, he cannot turn into a dragon. But hey, we can't have everything.

Book Synopsis: 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.

Source: A copy was purchased for my Kindle.

Title: Uprooted
Author: Naomi Novik
Publication Date: May 19, 2015
Publisher: Del Rey
Genre: High Fantasy, YA
Pages: 438 pages