3.5 star review

May TBR Challenge 2016 – Uprooted by Naomi Novik

TBR Challenge 2016

Topic: Something Different (outside your comfort zone, unusual setting, non-romance etc.)

Uprooted

“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.

150 year old hero with teen girl, yeah, that is outside my comfort zone, and I rarely read straight fantasy except for a few authors I’ve kept around for a long time. And NA/YA rarely goes well for me. But this was so well reviewed by people whose opinions I usually agree with, that it has been languishing on my pile. But then I came across another review last month, that left me feeling blegh about starting this one. And on top of my current slump, I approached it with some trepidation.

Warning: There will be spoilers. I don’t feel bad because this book has been out for a good long while.

But it was, well it was in turns delightful and horrid really. For the first third of the book there were no romantic urgings or longings, no heat or tension between the two main protagonists, just one young girls’ journey of self discovery-love, hate, jealousy, need, and personal growth. And the magic, both technical and lyrical in its turns kept me captivated. But if you need a well-defined magic system in place this may not work for you, here-at least the way Agnieszka does it, it is more art than anything else.

That’s not to say that it was perfect. Besides the grossly May December romance that was blooming, there was something in the voice of the novel that I just couldn’t quite like. You know how Katniss’ voice in the Hunger Games was somehow a step remote and cold? This was about two steps farther than that. And the way Sarkan treated her was abominable and never really reconciled. The way the initial scene with Prince Marek where he attempts to rape Agnieska and when she successfully defended herself Sarak got bent out of shape AT HER, and his solution was to let the would be rapist think he’d succeeded, that rankled entirely throughout the book. I was also set to be upset about how her “womanly” magic was so often denigrated throughout the story-but the longer I looked at it the more it seemed that the rest of them were so bound by rules that it showed more a lack in them than in her, so that worked out okay in the end for me.

But still, it kept me hooked so I almost didn’t care that I was perturbed at the voice and some of the characters. But most lovely thing of all, for my piece of mind, the one thing that kept me from being completely irate, the moment the tension did appear between our two protagonists, they separated. And Agnieszka was left to fumble, and fight, and learn her way through the next half of the story. And she received her own autonomy and freedom by being put on the lists in her own right. There’s adventure, death, and betrayal that she makes her way through before the two are reunited. Basically she did some much-needed growing up, so that I thought her less of a child, and this is key-was no longer in any way under Sarkan’s power. And in many ways I was able to see Sarkan more as a lonely stunted man. This is a fairy tale, so of course they were going to end up together. And I could have done without that aspect to be honest, but at least it didn’t squick me out as much as it might have.

But the reason for the sorcery and The Wood, and the way it all played out? That was, if not entirely to my liking (it was almost inexpressibly sad) it was entirely engrossing and not at all what I was expecting. And THAT was the happy(ish) ending that really worked for me. Girl getting guy? Yeah, somehow that part of the ending left me feeling a trifle saddened in a way that I am finding difficult to articulate. I think I honestly didn’t want them together. Don’t get me wrong, they meshed in a way that I think set a foundation that will last. But female friendship and love that lasts through every hardship and even seeing the ABSOLUTE worst in the other, that is the kind of priceless I don’t often get and was what made it work for me.

So, do I recommend it? That is hard to say. I overall enjoyed reading it and don’t feel it was a waste of my time. But I am glad to have been able to check it out of the library rather than spending money. And despite the fact that I am a massive re-reader, I doubt that I will re-read this one. Though I do I agree with others that it may actually be worth rereading, that there are layers yet to be plumbed. So it is a tricky one. But in general I think yes I would recommend it, with the caveats that if you want any of the following then this isn’t the book for you: real romance, real YA/NA, a really wrong hero groveling, or a strong and consistent magical system. Otherwise, if the idea of a fairy tale sounds like it might hit the spot, this might be a good choice.

Uprooted

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5 thoughts on “May TBR Challenge 2016 – Uprooted by Naomi Novik

  1. A while back I read about this book at FozMeadows blog, and the whole abuse issue of the female protagonist by pretty much everyone else in the book made it a deal breaker for me. Your review just confirms that I would probably screech at the book, were I to read it. The older I get, the less patience I have for some of the things that I gobbled up as a wee baby genre romance reader, back in the Dark Ages 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I have definitely moved over some myself (Catherine Coulter I used to devour, and a few years ago I went back and re-read it and literally vomited). I think some of the more glaringly critical reviews read things into this one that I didn’t, or at least they read through it farther than I did, IYSWIM. This was more of a drudge and ignore situation than outright abuse. More light Beauty and the Beast motif than anything else. But I can definitely see where it isn’t something people want to pick up.

      Like

  2. I read this when it first came out – and possibly because I am a HUGE beauty & the beast fan (I will read mostly ANYTHING relating to it) and I was on a bit of a high-fantasy binge at the time – I liked it quite a lot.

    I agree though – it was always a bit remote – I never felt enmeshed in the characters or the outcome…But I loved the unique follow through with a rather over-done concept and the whole tree thing at the end?! Deliciously creepy!

    It felt a little more grown up and grimm-ish which is a nice change from the plethora of disney-fied fairytales out there….

    Your review has totally made me want to go back and read it again!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have this book in my TBR pile. I saw great reviews about it and started reading it a couple of months ago. I left it around.. page 50?
    Reviews have this quite a paradoxical effect. Great reviews create very high expectations that make you leave the booh if you don’t connect with it at the begnning. Mild reviews, as yours, create lower expectations and therefore you can really enjoy the good parts without being angry because of the bad things in the novel.
    I don’t know. I’ll tell you if I take this book in my hands in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

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