Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprootedA DARK ENCHANTMENT BLIGHTS THE LAND.
Agnieszka loves her village, set deep in a peaceful valley. But the nearby enchanted forest casts a shadow over her home. Many have been lost to the Wood and none return unchanged. The villagers depend on an ageless wizard, the Dragon, to protect them from the forest’s dark magic. However, his help comes at a terrible price. A young village woman must serve him for 10 years, leaving all she values behind.
Agnieszka fears her dearest friend Kasia will be picked at the next choosing, for she’s everything Agnieszka is not – beautiful, graceful and brave. Yet when the Dragon comes, it’s not Kasia he takes.

I absolutely adored this book. It enthralled me to the point that I struggled to write a comprehensible review that didn’t consist of ‘just read it already’ in caps. Novik employs a lot of fairytale tropes and spins them on their heads to produce a fresh fantasy novel that kept me riveted until the final page.

As well as fairytale plots, Uprooted follows the standard fantasy novel formula. Obscure little person ends up encountering and being trained by awesomely powerful but reclusive character, discovers that they are awesomely powerful, encounters and struggles with some form of court or political intrigue, and then battles the Big Bad and saves the day. What kept me captivated was the masterful way that Novik would twist these to create a world and a plot that kept me on my toes trying to guess what situation would come next. Some of my favourite references were to Beauty and the Beast, Baba Yaga, and every Disney princess dress transformation ever. The Dragon teaches Agnieszka a spell that transform her outfits into unbelievably beautiful and impractical clothing, and she takes delight in destroying every single one of them. Agnieszka was written amazingly well: she is clumsy, stubborn, brave, and impetuous. She makes mistakes and tries to fix them, and sometimes makes things worse as a result. She’s Anne of Green Gables living next to a malevolent wood. Her approach to magic left me in stitches. The primary magic used by wizards and witches in Uprooted is based on formulas and specific words. Agnieszka’s magic doesn’t work well within these restrictions: she is able to use a cleansing spell created by a legendary witch with such vague instructions that no one else perform it, but muddles the simple spells that the Dragon gives her because they’re too formulaic. The descriptions of Agnieszka’s attempts to learn left me in stitches, both for the hilarious ways that the spells went awry and the Dragon’s irritated responses to them.

Because of the fairytale setting, the character development feels limited, but I found that instead it was very, very subtle. The characters would respond to different situations and I would think ‘yes this is exactly what would happen’ but I would have no idea why. It was only on rereading that I could spot the places that development had weaselled its way in and I felt I actually understood the characters. The only obvious true insights into the characters and their relationships occurred whenever a spell called the Summoning was performed. The Summoning allows only truth to be seen, and it was a great vehicle for demonstrating how both Kasia and Agnieszka were jealous of each other before and after Agnieszka was chosen. It’s also used to give insight into the moody and taciturn Dragon’s true nature. The scenes are written elegantly and at no point did I feel like I was drowning in exposition. Magic was also used to portray the deepening relationship and trust between the Dragon and Agnieszka. Many times over the course of Uprooted they have to meld their magic in order to complete spells such as the Summoning, and the scenes accurately display how both characters accept each other’s different weaknesses and strengths and how they can complement their own.

Uprooted was utterly divine, and it has driven me to seek out Naomi Novik’s other novels.  This is a book that I will read to shreds, and force upon every number of my acquaintances. Seriously guys, JUST READ IT ALREADY.

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