Review: Uprooted / Naomi Novik

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“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.

I went into this with very high expectations because a lot of people have constantly been raving about how magical and unique this novel is and that’s indeed exactly what I got. But it probably wasn’t the best time for me to read it for I’m in a, what feels like, everlasting reading slump. No joke! According to Goodreads I’ve been reading this book from July 25 to August 10. And it’s not like you could call this book a tome. It’s barely 400 pages long which I would consider average. But well, there’s nothing to be done about it now so let’s get ahead with the actual review.

As I’ve already said I was highly anticipating this book for all the recommendations I got and the fact that this is a fantasy standalone. Yes, you heard that right! It’s a fantasy standalone. Even though I love my series to bits I just can’t resist a good, old standalone from time to time but that would be my first in the genre of fantasy. I’m eager to read a lot more than just this one and to dive into the world of standalones because, obviously, there are some serious differences in writing style and pacing between the two that need to be discussed further.

But before I start: Can we just take a moment to appreciate the glory that we refer to as a book cover like this? It’s breathtaking in every aspect! The spine, the deckled pages and don’t even get me started on the dust jacket. I love all things old and vintage and this cover just looks the part, let’s be honest about that. I know you’re probably going to go all “Don’t judge a book by its cover” on me but come on! You can’t avoid falling in love with this design and if you, in some miraculous way, do just that, then tell me, are you a robot?

And the story resembles the cover to a certain extent. Namely that both things remind me of a fairytale in some way. The author, Naomi Novik, was inspired by Slavic mythology and Polish folklore such as Baba Jaga. You’ll find many traces of these inspirations of hers in the book. I really liked this aspect to it for it gives the book its very own character and makes it unique, in a very good way. Actually that should be enough to make you want to read it immediately. At least, that’s what it did to me. I mean, who isn’t intrigued by mythical creatures as such and to see their typical traditions come to life? I know that I am! I love Greek, Roman and Norse mythology so much and now I just have to add Slavic to the list as well.

As for the characters, this story doesn’t include a dragon even though it’s said to be. Sorry, to disappoint you there. No, “the Dragon” is the nickname of a wizard who plays a big role in our protagonist’s life, Agnieszka. Agnieszka is this cute, clumsy mess for a girl who gets her dress dirty with what felt like perfect ease. The dirt just seemed to crawl its way up to her feet and onto the fabric of her dress. I’m not kidding, I swear! She isn’t the typical beautiful and flawless heroine you usually get in a story and her clumsiness just made me warm up to her in an instant.

So, the story starts off with her being chosen as a tribute to the Dragon for some mysterious reason even though she normally would’ve been the least likely choice. After everyone seemed to catch their breaths again she went with him to his Tower where she is supposed to spend the next 10 years with him. And that’s when things start to go downhill for real…
I have to say I went into this with next to no knowledge about the actual plot which made it all the more intriguing and that’s why I won’t tell you anymore just yet.

The world was, well, how could I best describe it? It had a very strong, magical feeling to it that made the world feel special and, I won’t lie, like home. But here’s a reason why I couldn’t give it 5 stars: It was very complicated to sort of locate all the cities and places and to ultimately tell them apart because they often sounded very much alike. It would’ve been better to have an actual map for this book. I know you can’t blame the author for not creating a map, that’s the publisher’s job. But maybe, Novik, could’ve tried more to create this map with the magic of so-called words. It’s not like she didn’t and perhaps you’ll see it completely differently but for me it didn’t work out well.

The writing style and pacing, as I’ve already said, differs a lot from those in a series but I think that should’ve been obvious right up from the start for it’s only one book and not many where things could be stretched out a lot more. But here, I often got distracted and drifted off to other things. I told you I was (or better still am) in a reading slump and that may have been the cause for my slow reading process but I’m sure that was not the only reason. And when I think back to that time when I’ve been reading this book I struggled with myself every once in a while because I wanted to know how the story continues but I just couldn’t bring myself to actually get the book and read it. What a misery that was! I think it was because I just couldn’t properly connect with the writing or characters or whatever. For all I know her style of writing wasn’t exactly my type but don’t get me wrong! It was by no means bad or something of the kind. It had a magical flow to it which I actually really liked.

And here’s a little advice on my part: Read this book with Viktoria’s (@seelieknight) playlist in the background. She picked so many beautiful songs that fit the story and catch its atmosphere perfectly. Here’s the link if you want to: http://8tracks.com/seelieknight/uprooted

Well, I can’t think of anything else I might want to add so let me call this a day by summarizing my thoughts again. This intriguing book, based on Polish folklore, takes you on a mesmerizing journey with a lot of twists and turns. Self-discovery and finding one’s strength play important roles in this book. Add a hint of magic to the mix and this unique story is almost impossible to ever forget.

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