Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

"Uprooted" by Naomi Novik (Pan, 2016)

It begins like a Young-Adult girl-power novel. Every 10 years the Dragon selects a girl from one of the villages and takes her to his tower. Beauty and the Beast? Actually he's a man, Sarkan - an aesthetic wizard. He doesn't select the prettiest girl, Kasia, but her best friend Agnieszka (the novel's from her 1st-person PoV), who has some talent for magic. She's intuitive whereas the Dragon is scientific.

From her tower window she can see her village in the distance, and the Wood beyond. The Wood is packed with dangers - the walkers, etc. We learn that part of the tower was built by an ancient race. We learn that the Wood is trying to encroach, and the Dragon's duty is to resist it - "It was here before we came. Perhaps before they were," he added, gesturing to the walls with their strange foreign inscription. "They woke the Wood, or made it, and they fought it awhile, and then it destroyed them" (p.125).

The two of them do magic together. When Kasia's taken by the Wood they attempt an exorcism - The Wood stared back at me out of Kasia's face; an endless depth of rustling leaves, whispering hatred and longing and rage. … She didn't even know she wasn't in the Wood anymore. She was still trapped, while the Wood tore at her little by little, drinking up her misery (p.140). They succeed, but at a cost - not only to their energy, but if the Wood learns of their success it will react. The Prince learns of it, and wants his mother (taken by the Wood 20 years earlier) saved too. He says he'll kill Kasia unless Agnieszka helps him.

They recover the mother, return her to the capital. Agnieszka stays there, tries to understand how society works there, meanwhile trying to spare the lives of the Queen and Kasia (the law says that people taken by the Wood must die in case they're contaminated, and the King has reasons for wanting the law to take its course).

The city proves to be contaminated. Kasia and Agnieszka escape with the heirs. The rescued Queen turns out to be an embodiment of the Wood-Queen. There's a battle at the tower. In chapter 31 Agnieszka seems to go back in time, to when the Wood-Queen's race lived in harmony with the ancient tower people. Agnieszka decides to stay in the Wood.

The descriptions of magic - how it feels to use it, and the downside of having magic powers - are convincing enough. At times the magic used (or its lack) seems rather contrived. For example, in chapter 25 why create oxen to help their escape - aren't they slow?

The author uses the "try and run away" construction rather than "try to run away".

Other reviews

  • Kate Nepveu (The Wood is a wonderful antagonist. I’ve been extremely engaged by the action scenes in Novik’s previous books, and after the first chapters, Uprooted essentially turns into a series of increasingly-intense magical struggles as the Wood’s corrupting influence escalates and diversifies)
  • Nandini Ramachandran and Phoebe Salzman-Cohen (Novik’s marvelous Temeraire series proves that she has a rare gift for writing well-rounded, fascinating characters, a gift that occasionally glimmers in Uprooted, during the scenes between Agnieszka and Kasia. Her inattention to the other people in this novel, thus, can only be intentional, a sacrifice made to plot and celerity. What she does retain, though, is her amazing ability to create chemistry between her people. ... My only other real beef with Uprooted is that it can feel scattered when taken all together. Either the Dragon or Kasia alone would have been enough of an emotional force to drive a different book, and the added weight of Agnieszka's newfound, unorthodox magic, the importance of the land she comes from, and the mythology of the Wood, means that the book has to let each take turns. For the most part, the turn-taking is successful. But things sometimes feel lost when Agnieszka has to go to the capital city in an attempt to save Kasia, leaving the Dragon behind to fend off the Wood.)
  • Cindy Hannikman and Joshua Redlich

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