Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

This was an intimidating book to start. Go on its Goodreads page and you'll be greeted by a teeming sea of four- and five-star reviews. Also, it's expensive AF. I was really interested when it came out but the ebook was $9.99! $9.99! That seemed way too excessive for a book that not only wasn't in print form and therefore couldn't be lovingly toted around by me to and from my daily battles with big city public transportation, but also meant that I would be out almost $10 (that's two and a half small lattes from Starbucks!) if I didn't like the blasted thing. Luckily, it went on sale last year for $1.99 and I decided that the price was right.

The reviewers, however, were wrong.

I almost DNF'd this book at the 100-page mark. I couldn't believe it when I was greeted by halting, overwrought prose and a raging Mary Sue of a heroine named Agony (not her actual name, but her narrative induced throes of agony and it's close enough, so) who put even Queen Special herself, Addledstar Galactica, AKA Celery to shame. And then, when she finally meets the fearsome Dragon himself, instead of eating her...he makes her do CHORES?!

If I hadn't been invested in my buddy read with Elena, I would have dropped this potato so fast.

One thing that well-meaning fans do that really actually kind of gets on my nerve a little is tell me that a book is "going to get better" and that I should stick out my misery to get to the amazeballs ending that will be a total game-changer. I know they mean well (most of them, anyway), so I try not to get too annoyed about it, but it's a really frustrating thing to hear - "wade through this festering pile of boredom and inaction, there's an amazing ending four hundred pages down the road!"

Also, 9 times out of 10, they're wrong.

This is the 1 time out of 10 that the fans are sort of right. Around the 200-mark or so, when Agony and Dragon encounter the Wood, it starts to get interesting. Mostly because it stops feeling like a Medieval Guide to Domestic Drudgery and starts feeling like a classic horror novel. The heart-trees are freaking terrifying. I have the flu right now, and in the midst of a fever dream last night, I thought that the coat I had hanging on my closet door was a sprouted heart-tree, come to drag me into the woods. I almost screamed. It was so terrifying. It made me thing that Novik ought to give up fantasy for a while and try out writing an atmospheric horror novel instead. I haven't been so creeped out in ages. The magic system was interesting, but not very well-developed. It actually reminded me a lot of another fantasy novel I recently read, called THE BURNING SKY, where shouting foreign-sounding words Makes Magic Things Happen. That book also had a rather slow start and dreary protagonist. I felt like there was a five-star book buried in the heart-tree of this novel, screaming to get out, but it was utterly bogged down by the pacing, and the tell-not-show of the first person narrative.

One thing I did really like was the ending. It actually reminded me a lot of Moana (if you've read this book and seen the movie, you'll know what I mean). There is a definite feminist bent to this book, too. Agony's friendship with Kasia is more developed than her attraction to Dragon, and in many ways, I felt like Kasia was a stronger heroine than Agony was. I also liked the Moana-like twist I hinted at earlier, and I also don't think it was a coincidence that Agony, a female mage, was the one to do what she did. It reminded me of this Tweet I saw written by a survivor of abuse, who said that when she watched Moana, it made her think of the healing women can give each other in the aftermath of abuse, and the powerful bonds that form because of that sympathetic relationship. If Moana is an allegory for that, I think you could argue just as easily that UPROOTED is, as well.

That said, this book still had a lot of problems. Ultimately, I am glad I finished it, but it won't be topping any of my favorites lists, and I'm a little bewildered by all the unequivocal positive ratings. I'm intrigued enough that I'd be willing to check out her companion book set in the same universe, SPINNING SILVER. Novik has a style that's very similar to old school Diana Wynne Jones, and even though DWJ's books didn't always work out for me, I usually appreciated what she was trying to do.

3 out of 5 stars


  1. I did really like this one, but can see your points as to why it didn't entirely work for you.

    SPINNING SILVER is being developed from a short story in THE STARLIT WOOD. I liked SS and a few other stories in the collection but probably wouldn't recommend it overall.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Chelsea! And that's interesting to hear that the new book has roots (ha - roots!) in a short story. I'm always a little leery about "expanded" short stories since sometimes the expansion aspect reveals itself in the pacing.

  2. I'm to happy to see that this one did improve for you. The horrifying forest was my favorite aspect of this novel and I do think it is the novel's strongest aspect. Sorry you didn't love it as much as I did, but at least you didn't completely hate it!

    1. YES! The forest part was so well done. Easily the best aspect of this book.


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