Sunday, September 27, 2015

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I didn't voluntarily choose to read this book.  Marion raved about it; I went to a book store--to buy something else--and was told, then forcibly made by Frankie, to buy and read Uprooted instead.  If nothing else, Novik has some kick-ass fans.

More than anything else concerning this book, I love the title.  There are nearly endless references none of which feel forced or cliched.  The main character Agnieszka (upon finishing the book I was surprised to learn many people didn't know how to pronounce her name--perhaps this is my payoff for being a tennis fan…) is quite literally dragged away from her life to only then turn the life of her captor, The Dragon, upside-down.  Then the duo proceed to shake up the world a bit.  Oh, and in case you're wondering it's not just the title: the book is really good too.  

I almost felt like I was reading two books--and thank the publishing gods (are there such cruel deities?) that such a fate wasn't imparted to this novel.  The first book tells the first half of Agnieszka's life: growing up in a small village (boring) only to be--on what seems a whim--chosen by The Dragon to spend the next ten years of her life in his tower (aggressively more interesting).  

Agnieszka represents a large sample of my most recent female, teenaged protagonist; horrible and seemingly unable to help herself from complicating her life.  She's not good at magic despite having the gift; so naturally she doesn't study or practice and avoids the topic.  Somehow, this turns her into a latent savant of sorts (it was never explained) and she becomes a badass wizard.  Basically, she fails arithmetic for life but calc III and kinetics are a breeze… 

The purpose of learning magic is to help fight The Wood; the reader learns this half way through.  The Wood is sentient, multi-faceted, and very dangerous.  I think one has to be a regular fantasy reader for this novel to click.  The Wood; heart-trees; even the beginning with it's multiple and vague references to The Dragon, you kinda gotta bring something to the table to fully understand and appreciate the conflict going on.  It also wasn't completely secondary-world fantasy which was strange, as words like 'christening' 'matins' and 'Venezia' were used along with Baba Yaga being a character.  

There is a lot going on in the beginning of the book and a lot of points of interest, but there isn't much actual conflict other than Agnieszka getting on your nerves and The Dragon being obstinate.  (I returned to the same bookstore two days after starting and Frankie promised me Agnieszka would 'get better.')  The start of the conflict is the beginning of the 'second book' I mentioned.  

After so much intimacy with The Dragon and Agnieszka her move to the big city and court life felt awkward and none of the other 'new' characters had anywhere near a great enough opportunity to develop as our two previous main characters.  The Dragon all but falls out of the book, and Agnieszka bumbles around with no direction for too many pages.  Court intrigue seems to present it self as a 'bad guy.'  And giving The Wood enough personality, as well as human embodiment, to dislike it felt rushed and under-whelming.  The 'second book' to me felt filler-ish in a 'get to the final battle stuff soon' kinda way.  I was always entertained and sometimes even riveted, but never had problems going to sleep with pages left unread.  

For all of it's freshness and subversion of themes, the end was surprising run-of-the-mill military fantasy stuff.  That's isn't to say it wasn't good or well done, but I was very surprised.  

Now I know it's been awhile and I've kinda fallen out of the habit with book commentaries so in case you've forgotten how to translate The Chad; I'm here to help.  I only criticize stuff I like because I want to like it more.  I'm not quite back to my usual long-winded form but yeah, Uprooted was kinda awesome.  


Marion said...

I thought the beginning was slow and even though everyone assured me it wasn't, I was worried that the story was basically a magical romance. There is that aspect, but it is far from the whole story.

I loved the Wood and I loved Nieska's growth. I thought the Dragon's "plan" with all the girls he'd taken out of the valley was a little vague for someone who was supposed to be as good as he was. But I loved the way this book used story and the idea of story, especially with the Prince.

Chad Hull said...

The beginning was slow--that wasn't just you who felt that way. I'm amazed no one told Novik, "It starts, here, when she goes to The Dragon's tower." I'm glad to hear I wasn't the only one expecting more from The Dragon! I don't know what I was expecting but it was a whole lot more than what I got.

I'm not sure I follow what you were saying about the Prince.

I didn't like the ending, that was a very pleasant surprise; not exactly ambiguous but better than 'defeat the evil, queue the music, happily ever after.'