Uprooted, by Naomi Novik

If I had a long airplane trip in front of me, or a five hour wait at a dentist's office, or something equally uncomfortable, I would like very much to be having the pleasure of reading Uprooted, by Naomi Novik (Deckle Edge, 2015), for the first time again.  As it was, the suck-in-to-book-world force was so strong that I was able to ignore the crushing heat of my house at lunch time, and even my desire to get up to get a Fla-Vor-Ice (sic) was trumped by my desire to keep reading.....So yes, it's one of my top books of the year.  Technically it's a book for grown-ups, but if I had been told it was published as YA, I would not have questioned it.

The basic story--a bad Wood of Evil threatens the inhabitants of various villages in a valley.  The threat of the Wood is held in check by the power of a magician, known as the Dragon.  Every ten years the Dragon chooses a girl from one of the villages to go live with him (none of them ever report sex being part of the living arrangement...).  Agnieszka is the latest girl to be picked.  She wasn't expecting to be chosen, because of not being particularly beautiful or accomplished...but it turns out she has a gift for magic that made the Dragon kind of have to pick her to teach her.

It does not go as he had planned- her magic and his magic are very different in flavor.  His is the well-crafted, aesthetically handsomely crafted edifices of spellwork, and for her magic comes most easily as homely song and friendly word, feeling and intuition working just as strongly for her as well studied words do for the Dragon. 

Gradually the two of them, so very different, learn to be harmoniously in the world together viz their magic, which is a Good Thing because the Wood is very very very bad and basically wants to send its poision out into the whole world of humanity, and they learn to live harmoniously as people, and (I really liked this aspect of the book) there isn't insta love between the two, but rather sexual desire on the part of Agnieszka totally of her own accord (she initiates things) and with no moping and swooning--and it's not that it's not romantic, but it's a realistic, believable two people strongly phycially attracted to each other relationship.  This makes it rather different from the insta-love of the swoon worthy new boy that has shown up in the last ten YA spec. fic. books I've read.....

And the fight against the wood ends up involving court intrigue and armies and duplicity and scheming (I could have just stayed happily in the Dragon's tower humming spells along with Agnieszka and getting to know the Dragon along with her and sharing flashbacks to her childhood, but I guess the  bad magic out in the wider world of kings and princes and court magicians was important to the story....)

And then there is the final faceoff, and it is somewhat more nuanced than I was expecting with regard to motivation of the bad force behind the Wood.

So in short, I found it immensely readable; my only un-positive thought is that I'm not sure there's enough unsaid or implied or suggested such that re-reading would make it even more to be appreciated (the way, for instance, that one can keep reading Megan Whalen Turner's book and find a new meaning in how a particular gem flashes that give character insights).  It's not tremendously subtle....and  much of the magic is perhaps overly convenient and easily used....so though I enjoyed the first reading very much,  I'm not going to go leaping out to buy my own copy to re-read ad nauseum.


  1. I got this book from my library twenty-four hours before we were leaving for a month, and I thought, "Okay, as SOON AS I finish packing, I'm going to read it!" And then I didn't finish packing -- I returned it on the way to the airport to the library. It was pretty all-consuming!! I kind of agree with you about a re-read, though -- as much as I want to savor it when I have more time - but we'll see...

  2. I just finished this. It's soooooooo good! You keep thinking you know where it's going and then it turns into a completely different and even more compelling book. (It's Howl's Moving Castle. No! It's Crown Duel. No! It's The Blue Sword. No! It's The Riddlemaster of Hed . . .)

    Loved the use of Eastern European mythology.

    I think I will reread it just to spend time with the characters again and feel the magic. Also to take time to appreciate the writing: every once in a while I would stop and say, "wow, beautifully phrased," but would then go rushing on to find out what happened next. Trees that looked the way a snarl sounded. That sort of thing. And the romance: so perfectly done. I'll reread it just to watch certain scenes again. (Not _that_ one! Though it was pretty good, I have to say . . .)

    Don't mind me: I'm in the post-book gushing phase. :)

  3. I finished reading Uprooted earlier this week and really, really liked it. I felt particularly fond of it for reminding me a bit of Howl's Moving Castle, where the (maybe)wicked wizard is frustrated with the untrained village girl for her total lack of method, but also she's really secretly amazing at magic... That was fun for me. I love seeing an author's influences. And I loved the creepiness of the Wood, and the fact that even though there's a (spoilers!) nonviolent ending, you don't feel cheated out of the Big Fight Scene because that's already ALSO happened. Such a fun book.

  4. I finished this one early last week and had some complicated (not-all-positive) thoughts about it. I think some of that was due to the fact that so many people whose reading taste I trust really adored it, and so my expectations went up to match all of the hype.

    That said, I did love the Wood as a villain and I adored Kasia and her friendship for itself and also as motivation to do & learn magic.


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