End Date: September 26
Author: Naomi Novik
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy
Pages: 438 (hardcover)
Selected By: BillMo
“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.” – from the Amazon summary.
I liked this story very much, though the wording didn’t seem to flow all that nicely… but the contents themselves were great!
I found Dragon to be very entertaining, and while he could be standoffish I liked that I always knew what to expect from him. Agnieszka herself was actually my least favorite character of all; I found her to be very bratty and kind of dim-witted. She was only seventeen, so she can get a bit of a pass for her foolishness, but she wasn’t really tolerable until the end.
“You have to pick your way through the thickets and the trees, and it’s different every time.”
Novik did a great job of making me care about most of the characters within her story, and I was able to relate to aspects of many of them. I found the book in its entirety to have a Grimm’s Fairytale feel to it, while the ending contained a twist that I really loved. Overall, it had a moral threaded throughout that seemed to say: “Things are not always as they appear.”
I would certainly recommend this to young fantasy readers, though certain aspects of the tale are probably not appropriate for readers under the age of 14 or 15. I personally would read more of this series if Novik were to write additional stories for this world.
BillMo’s Favorite Character: Kasia. She was brave and strong, and a certain event that occurs in the tale cemented her as my own personal heroine for this novel.
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
The Divine Ms. Em:
I loved this book! The plots were highly developed and I loved the writing. It was a beautifully written story of Agnieszka, a seventeen-year-old girl who is chosen by Dragon (a wizard that lives in a tower and keeps the land safe from the encroachment of the evil in the wood). Every ten years the Dragon comes to the village and takes a seventeen-year-old female to his tower; when the girl returns, seemingly untouched and unharmed, she no longer wishes to live in the village and moves to Court where they live a more sophisticated life.
Agnieszka and indeed her entire village are sure that her good friend Kasia is the one who will be chosen. She is beautiful and talented, skilled in many things. When the Dragon comes to choose, he surprisingly chooses Agnieszka. He magically transports her to the tower and she has no idea why or what to expect. She comes to learn that the Dragon has chosen her because of her magical ability which she was mostly unaware of and that he means to teach her to use her magic. He is not kind and patient, but demanding and sarcastic. Slowly she finds her way and learns about herself and her magic through writings she finds and through instincts that she finally listens to and follows. She learns many things, not all with the Dragons assistance but in spite of him. He in turn learns many things about her and is surprised by her natural magic ability. They also find that the two of them using their magic together are very powerful.
Agnieszka learns about the Wood and about her world and mostly about herself. When her village is threatened and again when her friend is kidnapped, she doesn’t hesitate to rush in to do whatever she can to save them. There are twisting plots around court and Prince Marek and his agenda, the Dragon and his past. You find the secrets of the wood and what caused the great evil to develop and corrupt the wood who in turn attempts to corrupt the world. Through twists and turns Agnieszka finds a way to save her friend and then to save and be true to herself.
Ms. Em’s Favorite Character: Agnieszka.
Ms. Em read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
I can honestly say this book did not get a better rating from me due to the main character and some of the execution of the novel. In short, I thought it was a brilliant concept and I enjoyed the story. However, going from such eloquence as our last selection (The Wayfaring Stranger) to this, the writing style was a bit of a let down. No, not everyone has the great gift of being so well versed in the English language to make the words fly off the page. Now, the pace of Uprooted was great, with a little lull here and there. However, I started this book late and still managed to finish in a week despite my busy schedule.
Agnieszka is the voice of our story and the central character. She begins by bemoaning having to be presented to Dragon on the feast day and that he takes a girl from one of the villages of the valley for ten years. Now, she is so sure that her best friend will be the prize pig this time that she doesn’t try very hard. However, despite this, she has an unknown gift that makes her the prime fruit to be plucked this harvest. Agnieszka is an untrained, untapped witch that Dragon reluctantly takes under his wing. Now she is admittedly not the prettiest, smartest or even most desirable person to be around. These are all faults that shine through in the book. I couldn’t bring myself to truly like her, because of her whining and impetuous ways. She tends to act before she thinks, just like a character in another book (I know, I know…I keep going back to this comparison and it’s because at this point, all pitiful “heroines” I now judge on Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan). I think the characters are of similar maturity despite the actual age issues (Agnieszka is in her late teens while Rachel is in her late 20s). However, Agnieszka’s blunderings turn out for the betterment of those around her and shoring up her unfounded/untested talents versus causing more issues. Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that, Agnieszka’s actions also causes trouble, but we don’t get the unnecessary deaths just for giggles by the author’s whim.
Agnieszka, in my opinion is best described as one who works by intuition and feel of her craft. She attempts to learn in the manner that her master chooses to teach her. However, she discovers in herself, an innate ability to deal in the organic nature of her gifts, versus analyzing each act to death as Dragon does. Agnieszka admits she does not know everything and is not well versed in the ways of the court, as all she knows is the village she grew up in, the valley and most recently the Tower of Dragon. I enjoy that she is self-aware, unafraid to ask questions of those around her and demand assistance or to be heard when necessary. However, her whiny, compulsive behavior still kept me at arms-length from liking her.
However, contrasting to Agnieszka, is Dragon. He has been at this for over a century. He is sure, calculating and positively obsessive compulsive in the documenting of how the spells work and his craft overall. He doesn’t suffer fools and unfortunately, he is now stuck with Agnieszka. Dragon appreciates beauty and order. However, with taking Agnieszka on as an apprentice, he gets a disheveled and disorganized idiot that he harangues whenever possible. However, as her mentor he does grasp the concept that there are different means to get to the end and is willing to accept Agnieska’s approach as long as it is able to harnessed by her. I like that he is dour, refreshingly sober in most aspects and just to the point. I enjoyed his interactions with everyone. While he was blunt, he adhered to caution when dealing with the court and Prince Marek. Of course, Dragon was the only person I wanted not to die in the entire novel.
A lovely contrast to Agnieszka is Kasia. Kasia is beautiful and the expected next attendee of Dragon. However, she doesn’t bemoan her fate, she is resigned to it. When it doesn’t come to pass that she is chosen, there is no grudge held, there is no whining. She carries on. Even when Kasia is abducted and turned into an altered state of herself. She doesn’t weep and rail against the world for all the injustices. She is quietly resigned to her fate and moves gracefully through the novel. She loves fiercely and will protect those around her with all that she has. I think this was true of her prior to her abduction, but shines through as the novel meanders on and shows her devotion and loyalty to those she feels she should protect. If I were in battle, I’d want Dragon and Kasia to have my back without a doubt.
The major source of conflict in the novel is the Wood and the corruption it spreads. I enjoyed that we are always in fear of the Wood and what would happen if it devoured more of the valley. However, the culmination of how the Wood came to be, how the corruption occurred, made sense and you can see that maybe the Wood was just defending itself versus arbitrarily encroaching on towns near it. I enjoyed how Novik resolved the reason why the Wood was the way that it was and that it wasn’t always so. I also appreciated how she allowed for Agnieszka to become attendant to the Woods in the end and that her method for dealing with the Wood in kindness and restoration was much more positive than the many years of “burning it back”. Was the Wood a villain? Absolutely. Was it nefarious? Definitely. But there was indeed a good reason for it. However, two wrongs do not make a right.
While the Wood is meant to be the biggest adversary to the heroes of the book. I feel like there were other characters that were equal parts villain and equal parts jesters. Namely Prince Marek and Falcon. Both of these characters were slightly comical, yet frustrating beyond belief. While I can empathize with Marek’s desire to regain his mother from the Wood after her twenty year absence, his childlike mentality and inability or lack of desire to listen to reason causes a whole slew of problems that his kingdom did not need and could ill afford. He’s arrogant, childish, boorish and downright selfish most of the novel. Even at the last when he attempts to apply his reason to the situation, I wasn’t left bereft by his too little, too late epiphany. That is not to say I didn’t feel for him and his plight, but to me, he felt very much like a spoiled, yet lost child seeking his parent’s love and approval.
As for the Falcon…wow. Where Dragon was arrogant and right. Falcon was just arrogant and condescending. There was nothing genuine about the character, except for my desire to have him materialize before me so that I could punch him in the throat. I pictured a smarmy, slimy little man that you’d rather shove down an elevator shaft than tell him the elevator is out. With him, you get what you see and he makes no qualms about it. However, there is some good in him that shows up when you need it most.
Our time in the king’s court was brief and trying for me. However, I did enjoy the introduction of the other wizards and how they viewed Dragon and Agnieszka’s relationship and her skill. My personal favorite was Alosha. She is fierce, determined and just so matter of fact, I could relate to her. Of the wizards in court, she is by far and away, my favorite and I was saddened that she wasn’t featured more than she was in the book.
Overall, I think the book is quite good. However, again, the writing style didn’t really strike my fancy. While I don’t care for flowery and excessive prose, a bit more here would have brought the book around James Lee Burke, Robert Jackson Bennett and even Justin Cronin’s level of writing. Each of these authors listed has you picturing the scene before you vividly. Unfortunately, I was just at the cusps for this read. I liked that it moved, but as the same time, my imagination wasn’t overloaded and I wasn’t really picturing how this would look on the big screen. But that does not negate that the story was told well and thoughtfully.
Esbe’s Favorite Character: Dragon.
Esbe read a hardcover version of this book.
I am an absolute sucker for a great cover, so I automatically had high hopes for Uprooted the instant BillMo announced it as this month’s read. I set it high on a pedestal without really even knowing fully what it was about, and set the poor book up for failure by expecting so much from a book with such beautiful packaging.
So I can’t blame the author completely when I say that I was terribly dismayed when I began this novel. The main factor that worked against me giving this novel a five-cup rating – and a complaint which remains true even now that I’ve finished the story – is the writing style, which can best be described as disjointed. The author has a truly interesting and lovely tale to tell, but it moves with all of the grace and flow of a transatlantic raft ride in mid-December. Don’t get me wrong – there are flashes of real literary brilliance tucked away in the pages, but a majority of the novel is really rather choppy, clunky, and all around hard to thoroughly lose oneself in.
“If you don’t want a man dead, don’t bludgeon him over the head repeatedly.”
The other distressing factor I was hit with upon beginning this novel was the protagonist, Agnieszka. I really, really didn’t care for her at all in the beginning. In fact, for the first half of the novel I didn’t care much about anyone in the story, save for Dragon who seemed to be the only sensible and logical creature in the entire book. But Agnieszka begins the tale bemoaning the potential loss of her dearest friend to the resident magician, only to find herself being selected for residency in his tower instead, at which point she then proceeds to bemoan everything about her situation. She’s upset that he might take advantage of her, then she’s upset that he doesn’t seem interested in her much at all. She’s upset that he makes her do physical chores, then she’s upset that he’s been using those chores to teach her how to use her own innate magical skills. She doesn’t like the tower or the company or the clothes or the lessons; then she doesn’t like being away from the tower, the company, the clothes, and the lessons. She wants nothing to do with magic or Dragon… until she needs his help to save people she cares about, at which point, in his absence, she decides to take it upon herself to just fling every potion and unguent she can find in the hopes that something works.
This is akin to a budding – and reluctant – bio-chem student happening upon a fire in the chem-lab and deciding the best way to handle it in the absence of the professor is to simply smash their way into the equipment cabinet and throw everything in there on top of the flames on the off-chance that it might help douse them.
“A life before you in the moment isn’t worth a hundred elsewhere, three months from now.”
But as I said earlier, that was how I felt about Agnieszka in the beginning. As she grows and becomes more willing to really settle herself into her craft, I began to warm to her a bit more. She is only seventeen when the story begins, and she’s only ever known the residents of the small village in the middle of nowhere in which she was born and raised – her life experience is pretty much nil, as opposed to Dragon, who’s lived enough for everyone. She grows slowly, and while I never quite loved her as a protagonist, I can say I at least liked her quite a bit by the end. One of my favorite aspects of her character is the stark contrast drawn between her and her teacher, the formidable Dragon. He is a practical, logical, sensible, mature, laconic, highly organized, relatively cool under fire wizard with a magical style that is almost purely academical: he takes meticulous notes, all of his spells are ones he found within and modified from the pages of books, and if he comes across a technique that hasn’t been tested he immediately writes it off as unsafe until it can be proven otherwise. Agnieszka, on the other hand, is emotional, brash, reckless, impatient, easily flustered, impulsive, naive, chatty, and relatively gregarious (in other words, yes, she is a teenager), and her style of magic is one which is based entirely on her own intuition – if she feels it will work, it will work. While I liked Dragon better as an overall character, my hippy herbalist nature has to admit that Agnieszka’s innate skill was infinitely more interesting and graceful to me.
Agnieszka’s friend Kasia was, I think, a a far more interesting character than Agnieszka herself. She was not chosen by Dragon and was left instead to fend for herself after her friend was selected in her place, an uncomfortable situation if one considers just how that must have been for Kasia after Agnieszka left with the village’s resident wizard. Awkward, indeed, to say the least. *****SPOILER ALERT***** >>> There was just something about the transformation of Kasia after her rescue from the clutches of the Wood that struck a chord with me – maybe it was the idea that she got to have her own adventure, after all, or perhaps it was just the idea of a young girl who is wooden on the inside that I found to be so novel and interesting. <<< *****END SPOILER***** Whatever the reason, I found myself able to sympathize and empathize more with this supporting character’s plight than our protagonist’s.
“‘It comes, I suppose,’ I said thoughtfully, speaking to the air, ‘of spending too much time alone indoors, and forgetting that living things don’t always stay where you put them.'”
Marek and Falcon were, in my mind, the true villains of this tale. Yes, the Wood is big and bad and nasty, but it’s the sort of threat that serves more as part of the surroundings, part of the background noise that makes the story possible and pushes it forward, the catalyst for all of the characters in the book to show us what they’re truly made of. Not long after his introduction, Marek allows his colors to fly high, showing himself to be little more than an insolent, spoiled, haughty, chauvinistic, antagonistic, selfish pig with a big chip on his shoulder and an even bigger sense of entitlement. His adviser, Falcon, is little better, though it is his sense of self-preservation that dictates every decision he makes – he fights for the winner, always, even if his opportunity to share in the victory requires him to deny all of his previous actions and allies. With Falcon, I constantly heard the voice of John Rhys-Davies as Peter Jackson’s Treebeard growling, “A wizard should know better!” I find them both to be the villains primarily because they are also the only characters or entities within the entire novel who receive just about everything they demanded… and yet that was not enough. They were constantly grasping, constantly reaching, and when no more could be gained, their battle cry became one of violent vengeance.
*****SPOILER ALERT***** >>> My absolute favorite part of Uprooted, however, was the way it ended. I spent the first 60% unsure just how much I actually cared for the story, since even at that point I was still only primarily interested in Dragon and the wizards Agnieszka meets at Court. But once the Wood – the wicked and horrible Wood – made its move at Court, things proceeded fairly quickly, and the story really took off. I love trees, everyone who knows me knows this about me – my love of trees and woods and all things wild borders on the worshipful – and I found it touching to learn that the true heart of the “evil” Wood was actually one of innocent beauty overcome by sorrow and anguish. Like Fangorn in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the Wood of Uprooted is full of dark echoes, watchfulness, and anger – the trees there are very old and full of memories, not all of them good, and it has allowed its suffering to twist it towards rage. But unlike Marek and Falcon, rage and anger are not its nature, not truly, and when given a reprieve, when granted a bit of peace, when settled by love and peace and good intentions, it releases the fury it allowed to corrupt its soul and returns to the beauty and solace it once embraced. <<< *****END SPOILER*****
I would certainly recommend this novel to anyone who’s looking for an easy fantasy read. I disliked the author’s writing style enough that I wouldn’t buy the other series for which she is known, but I loved this story enough by the end that I would certainly read more about its world and characters if she followed it up with additional volumes.
Elle’s Favorite Character: Dragon.
Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.