Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Uprooted, by Naomi Novik

I kept my expectations low when starting this one, because so many people were raving about it and I didn't want to be disappointed. No danger of that: Uprooted deserves every bit of praise and more. It takes all the best elements of your favourite fairy tales and fantasy and weaves them into an original, deeply layered, coming-into-one's-magic-and-saving-the-world story.

It's a story that feels familiar and comforting; you've read it before; you think you know where it's going. Then it makes a left turn into yet another story that you're sure you recognize from somewhere. Every time you think you've gotten your bearings, off it goes in a new direction. It's Howl's Moving Castle. No, it's Crown Duel. No, it's The Blue Sword. No, it's The Riddlemaster of Hed.

And isn't that exactly what we all want from a story? That it's the same as all the ones we loved, but still completely new and surprising? I can confidently say that if you like Diana Wynne Jones, Sherwood Smith, Robyn McKinley, Patricia McKillip, Ursula Le Guin, Juliet Marillier . . . you will like Uprooted.

Things I loved: 

The magic. At first I was disappointed, because other people had commented on how wonderful the magic was, and it isn't, at first. But that's all part of the plan, and you have no idea what I mean because I refuse to be the least bit spoilery. Just, be patient for a few chapters, that's all.

The Polish influences: names, landscapes, food and fairy tale references were a fresh twist on the Medieval European fantasy landscape. Familiar, but not.

The characters: all of them. All complex and understandable, people you recognize ("the people that you meet when you're walking down your street"), people you can care about. Even the villains. Even the really, really evil villains.

The romance. See above, re: characters. It was a real, believable relationship; it didn't dominate the book but it spiced it up; there were some really great scenes. And if you're like me, and the slightly spoilery things people were saying about this being a Beauty and the Beast story make you worry about whether it's a healthy romance, it's okay: Nieshka totally owns it.

Nieshka: because she's thrown out of her element so many times, and she's terrified, and she has no idea how she's going to cope, but then she womans up and does what she knows she has to do. Her character growth is painful and frustrating, and she rocks it. Lots of "you go girl" moments.

The Wood: seriously creepy and evil. Wow. *Shudder*

The writing: I had to take my copy back to the library so I can't quote for you, but the language is beautiful, worth savoring. Plus, lots of humour. Great dialog.

I'm probably the last person on the block who hadn't read this, but if you happen to have not read it yet, you're in for a treat!

I'm not very familiar with Polish food, so I'm going to go with goulash: spicy, rich, meaty, with big doughy dumplings. 


  1. The Wood was SO CREEPY. I loved Novik for managing to make it so utterly terrifying. A million props to her.

  2. YES to all of this. I am so glad you liked it too.

    I love how the book feels like it honors so many great female fantasy writers and their influence on the genre, but is still very much its own thing.

  3. Agreed on all counts! I adored this book and love what you said about it feeling so familiar to old favorites and yet wholly original. The imagery this one conjured up was so fantastic and that creeping feeling of horror with the wood! Ah, it was amazing.