Friday, April 17, 2015

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Title: Uprooted

Author: Naomi Novik

Information on series: Not part of a series

Audience: Adult, though with appeal for some older teens

Rating (scale of 1-5, with 5 being highest): 5

TL;DR: A character-driven fairy tale with Eastern European influences that explores the ideas of home and forgiveness (and just a touch of steamy romance).

Longer review: I’m not surprised that Uprooted was the top pick for the May 2015 LibraryReads list (Publication Date: May 19th). In fact, I was one of the librarians who recommended it for the LibraryReads list after I lost most of a weekend reading it. A colleague had picked up an ARC at the 2014 ILA Conference, and passed it on to me with high praise when she finished.

Naomi Novik has been on my radar for several years because of her Temeraire series about an alternate history Napoleonic war with dragons. Many readers have told me how much they’ve enjoyed a recommendation for His Majesty’s Dragon, but somehow it’s never made it off of my TBR list. After reading Uprooted, though, His Majesty’s Dragon has moved up the list.

Uprooted is a coming-of-age fairy tale with a charming first person narrator and detailed, but not overwhelming, worldbuilding. Novik draws on the myths and legends of Russia and Eastern Europe, an influence that helps to differentiate this story from the more typical Celtic or Scandinavian fantasy settings. The story is set in a distant valley of the fictional Polnya near the border of hostile Rosya and the dangerous Wood (a forest filled with aggressive danger).

This is a story of self-discovery and forgiveness, and though it is very character-driven there is a fast moving plot. Agnieszka, our narrator, is 17 years-old and nothing about her is particularly special, though her family loves her. Perhaps her family loves her even more because she is such a failure at sewing, cooking, and almost any activity other than getting into messes outside. Agnieszka’s best friend Kasia, on the other hand, is a paragon of perfection and beauty, much to everyone’s despair.

Once every ten years the Dragon, a powerful wizard who protects Polnya from the Wood, selects a 17 year-old girl from the valley to serve him in his Tower. Because the Dragon holds himself apart from the locals, the girls he chooses are isolated for their ten years of service from friends and family, and they inevitably return so changed that they move to the distant capital to start new lives. So it’s obvious to everyone that come the 1st of October, the Dragon will choose Kasia as his servant and Agnieszka will lose her best friend. Of course, SPOILERS!, nothing goes as expected and the Dragon instead takes awkward, clumsy Agnieszka away from her beloved home.

There’s a touch of romance, which is steamy enough that it might be off putting to some readers, but the focus is on how the characters, especially Agnieszka, grow and change. Novik escalates the stakes throughout the story creating the sort of tension that left me reading well into the night. Uprooted is an engrossing fairy tale that I suspect I will be rereading in the near future.

Read alikes:
His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik: This is the first title in Novik’s series about an alternate history Napoleonic Wars with dragons.

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder: The first of a fantasy trilogy featuring an unusual female heroine and a darker romance. Yelena is offered a reprieve from her death sentence for murder if she agrees to become the new poison taster for the repressive leader of her country where anyone with magical talent is killed.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo: The first book in Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy also features a heroine with unexpected powers and a setting influenced by Eastern European culture. Though this series is intended for a teen audience and has a focus on the currently popular love triangle.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson: This is also the first book of a Young Adult trilogy, though it stands well on its own. The setting is more reminiscent of Spain, but Elisa, the novel’s narrator, is a young woman who has a similar path of growth and self-discovery with a touch of romance that by no means defines her.

~Sarah, Carnegie-Stout Public Library