Uprooted by Naomi Novik
3 out of 5 stars
Mild spoilers ahead.
Uprooted might be one of the most overrated books this year. Everyone seems to be absolutely in love with it. Well, all I can say is that it was okay.
The beginning was actually quite promising. Peasant girl picked from her village to serve the most powerful magician of the country – sounds cool to me. Agnieszka actually turns out to be quite good at magic herself and that is the part I absolutely loved about this book! The magic system is nothing completely new – words and syllables spoken in the right order sometimes with gestures or potions added. BUT Agnieszka’s approach to it is described in wonderful nature allusions, with her walking through imaginary woods and finding the right words for a spell in the undergrowth or as a fruit on a tree. I loved the way her intuitive natural way of dealing with spells and potions is contrasted with her master’s theoretical and accurate method. Their relationship is dominated by these two very different styles of dealing with not only magic but also everything else in life.
Which brings me to another aspect of this book I rather liked; the creepy evil Wood which is a thread to the whole country and particularly to the village Agnieszka’s from. The Wood is described as this mysterious haunted forest, populated by creepy monsters and spirits. It is expanding and also it has “kidnapped” the country’s Queen twenty years earlier.
So. Evil forrest – check. Missing Queen – check. Kingdom on the brink of war – check. Awesome magic-wielding heroine – check!
So, what’s not to like? Well, the writing is kind of slow, which doesn’t have to be a bad thing but a novel like this needs a much faster pacing. Also, Novik’s writing style seemed a bit stilted at times – almost like she was writing in a foreign language. Maybe it’s because a lot of this book’s background comes from Polish fairy tales; maybe these things don’t translate that well; maybe she kept the weirdness of the original stories in the tone of her novel – I don’t know. To me it didn’t feel right.
As for the pacing of the story the second half and in particular the last 150 pages just dragged on and on. I was no longer interested in its outcome anymore and only wanted to be done with it. I think the main flaw here is that the damsel in distress was just so very very uninteresting! I did like that the story focusses on Agnieszka saving her best friend. The problem is that said friend, Kasia, is not a fully-fledged character. She’s perfect and bland in every way. She doesn’t even become interesting when she acquires all that magical strength. Novik passed the chance of creating a terrifyingly beautiful, otherworldly creature here!
This could have been a great and magical fantasy story, but it falls short of expectations in the end. Oh well.
I did like the “love story” though!
And that cover! Oh. My. God.