Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

This book is probably the best book I’ve read this year. It was a gripping story that read almost like a thriller without ever losing its fairytale roots.

5/5 stars

cover uprooted

Amazon description:

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.

My review:

This book grabbed me from page one. It sounds cliche, but it’s true–I could not stop reading. I seriously considered pulling an all-nighter to read it. The next morning (after I got some sleep, because I really can’t stay up that late) I started reading it again, and I didn’t stop until the afternoon when I absolutely had to for social obligations. I finished it the next morning (and I want MORE). From the first page there was something addictive about the writing, the voice, the promise of the story. The story then just built and built, dragging me along, getting darker and more intense until I could not imagine putting it down. I haven’t been so completely at the mercy of a book in a long time.

I liked that the story didn’t spend a lot of time before the Dragon took Agnieszka to his tower. There was just enough backstory for me to get a sense Agnieszka’s roots and then the story focused on what really mattered: her life in the Dragon’s tower.

Agnieszka was the right protagonist for the story. She started out timid and prone to sobbing, but even from the beginning she had a powerful moral compass and just enough bravery to keep her to it, as well as a fiery temper that she couldn’t always control. Her growth was clear throughout the tale, but she never changed so much that I didn’t recognize the girl who began the story. Her interactions with the Dragon helped her develop her character; I loved that even though on the surface she was acting like a damsel in distress, she never really gave up or earned my pity. Agnieszka is one of those protagonists who is strong without knowing how to fight or even having social skills–and I loved her for it.

The Dragon was never truly a villain, and I don’t think he was supposed to be one. It was clear that he was detached from humanity and that he had a temper, but in his interactions with Agnieszka, I was always aware that there was more to the story. I found myself laughing at his callousness, even when it wasn’t a funny scene. As the story progressed, his character grew on me and transformed away from the towering figure he had been in my mind in the beginning. (I literally have different mental images of him depending on if it is the beginning of the story or the end.)

Both the Dragon and Agnieszka have magic. The Dragon takes Agnieszka instead of Kasia (who everyone assumed he would take) to his tower in order to teach her how to use her magic, which she hadn’t even known she possessed. It was a slow and grueling process, but the magical dynamic that developed from her training was my favorite part of the book. Agnieszka’s magic is unique in the world of magicians. The way she harnessed it perfectly worked with her country roots and added a uniqueness to the story that it would have lacked if the author hadn’t expanded the magic into something that could be harnessed multiple different ways. The conflicts between Agnieszka and the Dragon from their different magical styles added depth to their relationship and started to pull at my heartstrings.

The plot of the book centers around the menacing forest called the Wood that looms near Agnieszka’s village. It is the Dragon’s task to keep it from encroaching forward and to fight off its harmful magic that drives people insane and turns them into monster. I loved how at the beginning of the book the Wood was this simple, static evil, but by the end it was an omnipresent horror that was always one step ahead of the protagonists. Scenes in the Wood or involving its evil powers were honestly scary and gave the book the feel of a sort of fantasy thriller. The “fight” scenes in Uprooted were graphic and horrifying, and Novik did not spare the reader an understanding of the body count. The Wood’s menace propelled the plot along as the full scope of its powers and reach were made clear.

Uprooted is so beautifully written. The writing style is effortless–you don’t realize how well-written it is until you realize you’ve been reading for hours and you didn’t even feel the time pass. All of the background characters were interesting and developed through the story. They came across as deeply human, and their flaws were always understandable because they were framed around human emotions and desires. I was glad that there were never so many characters that I lost track of who was who, even though the book is very long and the plot takes place across multiple settings.

The romantic element of the book was subtle but powerful: though only a few scenes were directly related to the romance, I was seriously emotionally tied to seeing it play out. Part of the thrall of the romance was that throughout the entire story, it was such a small part of the plot that I never felt that it was guaranteed to end the way I wanted it to. Up til the last page, I was doubting that the couple would end up together, and it was breaking my heart.

I was very satisfied by the ending of Uprooted. It could have been cheesy, but somehow it wasn’t. The character growth Agnieszka experienced was clear and the “solution” they finally found for the Wood fit the overall theme of the book. My only complaint is that this book needed an epilogue. I literally reread the last page five times trying to glean more emotional satisfaction out of it. It is a happy ending, but I wanted to bask in the happiness a little while longer.

*I recieved a copy of Uprooted from KT Communications in exchange for an honest review.

13 thoughts on “Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

  1. This book just came out of nowhere and then it was all of a sudden SUPER popular. It sounds interesting and I love that it’s a standalone, so I definitely want to pick it up soon. Maybe they didn’t leave an epilogue so it could be made into a series a la Vicious by V.E. Schwab? I hope not though. We need more stand-alones of the non-contemporary variety!

    Liked by 1 person

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