What I’ve Been Reading: Mini Reviews

Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton

Rating: 3 stars

This is a lovely little novel, with some beautiful prose, and some interesting, though unexplored, thoughts. It is about Margaret Cavendish, a writer in an age when woman did not write, and if they did, they published their works anonymously. A wholly unique woman who dressed extravagantly, wrote science fiction, philosophy, plays, etc., and was obsessed with the idea of achieving fame so she could live through her works forever. They called her Mad Madge.

I’m not actually sure what this novel was trying to be, or what it was trying to achieve. It is not a biographical work of fiction, nor an immersive historical fiction- it wants to be experimental, and is beautifully written, but ultimately I wasn’t sure what the point was. After completing the book I feel no closer to Margaret then before, nor could I tell you much of her personality or beliefs, or the time in which she lived.

Dutton mentions Virginia Woolf in the author’s note, though I did not have to read it to know she was attempting to pay homage. That premise was what initially drew me to the novel (aside from the exploration of such a fascinating woman), but I think failed to deliver.

It lacks emotion and depth, for all its lovely prose- it felt sterile, and cold, which I wasn’t able to detect initially as I was so taken in by the writing style. There is hardly any exploration of inner life, though there is the false pretense of doing so. Margaret’s melancholy is only examined shallowly, the relationship with her husband (though clearly deep), barley touched upon- but all of these aspects are important parts of the novel. I come away thinking that there were just so many missed opportunities- to examine Margaret, to examine woman and sexism during the time period, to examine Margaret’s philosophical beliefs… there are to many could have beens.

My emotions are mixed. Did I enjoy this novel? I’m not really sure, but I loved the prose. Would I recommend this to someone? Again I’m not really sure. This is not for someone who has an interest in historical fiction, but neither is it for someone looking for an in-depth character study. I don’t exactly know who the audience is supposed to be. Not for people looking for experimental fiction, because this is pretty standard fare in my opinion, though I do think it strives to be something different. It’s a book with pretty words, but little substance behind it.

The Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than A Man by Tom King and art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta

Rating: 5 stars 

I’ve been avidly reading The Vision in issues, but decided to read the first trade in one go, and see how the issues of the first arc all fit together in one read through. Simply put it is fantastic. This series is pitch perfect. A bit strange, a bit out there, definitely dark- but it also examines what is normalcy, and I think at the core of it all, Vision’s new family is a version of normal- just not in a way we humans would acknowledge them to be, at least at first. If you are interested in examining normalcy in a “regular” suburban neighborhood, picket fence and all, then this is for you. The story is an odd one for comics, and one I hesitated to pick up at first, but am ultimately so happy I did. It’s one of the best comics out at the moment.

Simply put it is about Vision creating a family for himself, and how they deal with living in a neighborhood full of everyday humans, and the only synthetic life there. The strive for normalcy and be an average family, but due to many different factors, are unable to achieve their dreams. I found myself in love with the family. Maybe not so much Vision’s wife (Scarlet Witch and Vision for life!), but his two children have endeared themselves to me. I want so much for them to meet Wiccan and Speed, and join the Young Avengers with their brothers. It’s most likely a pipe dream- but it’s a beautiful dream…    

Reading this in issues is, for me, the best way to consume the story. Each issue is masterfully crafted to tell a story, and while they may end on cliffhangers at times, you don’t feel as if you have been cheated of a story- quite the opposite. Nowadays some comic authors write with the trade paperback in my mind, but this is not the case with Vision. And while there is no “proper” way to consume a comic, I do think that if you are able, the best way to do so with this particular comic is in issues. You are getting (I believe) the necessary, painful wait; you spend every month longing for the next issue, on the edge of your seat, unable to contain your excitement. And boy, do each issue really give you a major pay off for your patience.

I would also be remiss to not acknowledge the art, which is perfect (like everything in this). I love this particular style, and I think it fits the comic very well. The Visions look normal, but just slightly off. There isn’t something quite right about them at times, and at others they look like a normal family. The expressions on their faces are great, which I can imagine could be difficult to capture for some artists. I also want posters of all of the covers. Fantastic.

Anyway read this. That’s all I have to say. READ. THIS.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

Rating: 2 stars 

I did not enjoy this book all that much. Perhaps my expectation were to high considering all the hype surrounding du Maurier, but I found this to be an overall disappointing read. It’s not that it’s bad necessarily, it’s just that it’s riddled with cliches, and characters not dimensional enough to elevate the story.

It is about a young woman named Mary whose mother has recently passed, and her dying wish was for Mary to go live with her Aunt. Mary goes to a place called Jamaica Inn, where her aunt is living with her husband, whom Mary and Mary’s mother never met. He turns out to be a violent drunkard, who is involved in criminal practices, and Mary is trapped, unwilling to leave and abandon her aunt who is clearly being abused. She also meets the mysterious Jem, the brother to Mary’s Aunt, and a romance soon develops.

The prose is wonderful, and the atmosphere it conveys is fantastic. It does a magnificent job of seeing the time and place. Mary is an alright heroine, she’s intelligent and has a good head on her shoulders, but she complains constantly of how much stronger physically and mentally she would be if she were a man, and the repetition began to irritate me (I know that du Maurier herself had issues with being a woman, which is why I assume it is Mary’s main insecurity). It wasn’t that I disliked the book, so much as I felt disconnected.The love story was unbelievable and under developed- at time laughable in all honesty. The romance began with little to no development, so consequently I did not care. 

“She was a woman, and for no reason in heaven or earth she loved him. He had kissed her, and she was bound to him forever.” (p. 261)

(The above excerpt makes me irrationally angry)

Apparently Mary being a woman, and Jem a man is reason enough to fall in love. Very compelling stuff.

If the romance had been better I may have been able to forgive the book its other faults. Alas the love story was a bust, so all it had going for it was the story (already cliched) and the mystery. So how was that? Dreadfully obvious from the start. I saw every twist and turn coming from a mile away, the villains cartoonish, and not even fun to hate.

SPOILERS INCOMING- STOP READING IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW 

 

I found the “big reveal” of the main villain to be offensive (and again obvious). Of course the albino character is evil. Of course. If you look different then obviously you’re the bad guy! That’s how it works in real life to, right? This is a tired cliche, and I was saddened to see it used here as well. I know it’s an older book, but that isn’t much of an excuse in my opinion. Not only was it offensive, but it did not even have the decency to be a good twist. 

Autumn Reads

Fall is my favorite season, and Halloween is undoubtedly my favorite holiday, so having a bunch of books to help propel me into the spirit of the time of year is a must. As such I’ve compiled a list of books that I’ve read and think are fitting for the fall, and also some books on my TBR that I’m dying to check out.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

I know I know, you’ve heard of this one already. It’s a classic for a reason, but I felt that I would be remiss to not include this. It’s the perfect seasonal read, and one I’ve been dying to reread for awhile. It has everything you could want in a Halloween read, with beautiful hypnotic prose. Plus it’s about a creepy carnival. I mean seriously, what more could you want?

“For some, autumn comes early, stays through life where October follows September and November touches October and then instead of December and Christ’s birth there is no Bethlehem Star, no rejoicing, but September comes again and old October and so on down the years, with no winter, spring, or revivifying summer…Such are the autumn people. Beware of them.”

Stephen King

Super broad, yes, but you really can’t go wrong. My personal favorite is It, because I have a deep rooted fear of clowns, but it’s by far not the only option. Want vampires? Salem’s Lot. Ghosts, and creepy hotels? The Shining. Post-apocalyptic? The StandI haven’t yet read The Dark Tower series, so that’s up on my list.

“The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years–if it ever did end–began, so far as I can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.” 

 Stephen King, It

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I’ve already written a review of this, so I wont go on about it to much. What I will say is that it is fairytale filled with magic, a Beauty and Beast inspired story with a super fun romance, and fantastic villain that is nature itself.

“His name tasted of fire and wings, of curling smoke, of subtlety and strength and the rasping whisper of scales. He eyed me and said stiffly, “Don’t land yourself into a boiling-pot, and as difficult as you may find it, try and present a respectable appearance.”

From Hell and/or Swamp Thing by Alan Moore

From Hell is a Jack the Ripper story by Alan Moore. Need I say more? It’s not as good as some of Moore’s other works, but when it comes right down to it I’m not sure Moore is capable of writing a bad story.

Swamp Thing is a horror comic published by Vertigo about a man who had been devoured by the swamp and become this elemental creature… kinda. It’s complicated… Just read it! You’ll love it! He uses horror stories to explore many political and social issues including environmental ones.

If I had to pick between the two comics I would choose Swamp Thing, but both are great, so if you have the time I’d say read them both. (Unless you haven’t read Watchmen. If that is the case then drop everything and go out and read it right now. You won’t be sorry.)

“It’s raining in Washington tonight. Plump, warm summer rain that covers the sidewalks with leopard spots. Downtown, elderly ladies carry their houseplants out to set them on the fire-escapes, as if they were infirm relatives or Boy Kings. I like that.”

Alan Moore, Swamp Thing, Vol. 1: Saga of the Swamp Thing

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

I’m not sure what is about this time of year, but once fall comes around I suddenly can’t wait to read some sort of Arthurian tale. My favorite one is probably The Once and Future King by T.H. White, but I’ve been meaning to pick The Mists of Avalon up again for quite some time. I have my issues with this book- for one thing I don’t think it’s nearly as feminist as it claims to be- but it’s a great story when you get right down to it. I read this for the first time when I was fourteen, and read the massive tome in a weekend. I then gave it to my extremely busy dad, who in turn finished it in under a week (which with his workload was very impressive!). It’s just one of those books you can’t put down. So for those of you who are unaware of what it is I’m talking about, all I think you really need to know is that this is the Arthurian legend told from women’s perspectives, with some new age religion, and biting criticism of Christianity thrown in.

“And so, perhaps, the truth winds somewhere between the road to Glastonbury, Isle of the Priests, and the road to Avalon, lost forever in the mists of the Summer Sea.”

Mary Shelley by Miranda Seymour

I wanted to throw a nonfiction recommendation in here, and what better then the mother of Frankenstein herself? I mean if you haven’t read Frankenstein then you should probably go do that, but honestly even if you haven’t gotten around to it yet, Mary Shelley lead such a fascinating and revolutionary life, I think you’ll enjoy this nonetheless. I’m obsessed with the Romantic Movement (and Percy Shelley in particular), and if you don’t know much about it this would be a great place to learn since Seymour pays such attention to detail.

Mary Shelley lead an amazing, and for her day radical, life that is just riveting. There’s a newer biography out there that is a joint bio of her and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, which I haven’t yet gotten around to but have heard great things (Romantic Outlaws). So if you’re interested in learning about Wollstonecraft as well then give that a shot. But Miranda Seymour’s biography of Mary Shelley is, I think, the definitive biography of Mary Shelley.  

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell 

Simon Snow is the worst chosen one to ever be chosen. This is a young adult novel about a boy wizard named Simon Snow at a magical boarding school who (you guessed it!) is “the chosen one”. If that sounds like Harry Potter to you, then you’re right. This is a take on the Harry Potter series, and “the chosen one” concept in general. In Rowell’s novel Fangirl the main character is obsessed with a series of books called Simon Snow (a stand in for Harry Potter), and writes slash fanfiction about Simon and his arch nemesis Baz (ala Harry/Draco). But you don’t need to know that going into Carry On. You don’t have to have read Fangirl to read this, it is a standalone novel.

I don’t read much YA, and to be perfectly frank I’m not usually the biggest fan of the genre. I’m not sure why, I just haven’t found many books in it that I like. But I picked this up because I really wanted a book about gay wizards. I thought it was going to be thinly veiled Harry Potter fanfiction, but it honestly is not. Sure it’s got it’s similarities, but Simon and Baz (and the rest of the supporting cast) stand on their own. The romance between them is wonderfully well drawn, and very sweet, but not in a sickening way. And aside from the romance it’s also a really interesting story, and it examines children’s fantasy in a really meaningful way. I laughed, I cried, I had to leave Starbucks because I could not contain my squealing while reading this book.

“He’s a book full of footnotes brought to life. He’s a jacket made of elbow patches.”

The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley 

I wanted to include some children’s books in case you have any little people in your life. I haven’t reread this series since I was a kid, but when I was younger I was obsessed with these books. I became to old in-between releases and never finished the series, but what I did read was great fun. It’s about two girls whose parents disappeared under mysterious circumstances and are then thrown in the foster care system. It opens with them on a train to meet a grandmother they never even knew they had, who has suddenly come forward and claimed them. The main character Sabrina is skeptical of this eccentric old lady, and then thinks the old woman is completely nuts when she claims to be a fairytale detective. As it turns out Sabrina and her sister Daphne hail from the Brothers Grimm, and now in a small town called Fairytale Landing (a bit on the nose- I’ll admit) fairytale creatures of all sorts are stuck there, unable to leave. The Grimm’s are stuck there as well (or at least, one Grimm has to reside there no matter what- also part of the spell), and the family in time became detectives. Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream is another main character, and probably the most fun in the series. I remember simply dying over the will they/won’t they romance between him and Sabrina. According to the internet it’s for children between 8-12 years old, which sounds right to me, but to be perfectly honest I know shit about children.

“That’s why crazy people are so dangerous. You think they’re nice until they’re chaining you up in the garage.”

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente (TBR)

Another children’s book, but this one is really for all ages. It’s about a little girl named September who is taken by a Green Wind who invites her to Fairyland. There she goes on a magnificent adventure trying to save the world, and comes across a Wyvern, and a boy named Saturday.

I wish this had been around when I was a kid, because I know I would have devoured the series. (I’ve taken a little peak inside the book and the writing is absolutely gorgeous!) 

“Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.”

The Devourers by Indra Das (TBR)

This book to me sounds very reminiscent of Interview With a Vampire (which I did not include for fear of death by cliche). A college professor named Alok meets a strange man claiming to be a werwolf, and weaves a strange tale. Obsessed with finding out how it will end, Alok agrees to transcribe some books made of questionable material for the mysterious stranger, that detail the wanderings a mysterious race of beings.

“My part in this story began the winter before winters started getting warmer, on a full-moon night so bright you could see your own shadow on an unlit rooftop. It was under that moon—slightly smudged by December mist clinging to the streets of Kolkata—that I met a man who told me he was half-werewolf. He said this to me as if it were no different than being half-Bengali, half-Punjabi, half-Parsi. Half-werewolf under a full moon. Not the most subtle kind of irony, but a necessary one, if I’m to value the veracity of my recollections.”

The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers (TBR)

THIS. I can’t even began to express to you how excited I am. It’s a historical fiction, gothic, fantasy novel about a man named Michael Crawford who finds his wife dead on their wedding night, and then is forced to flee due to a malignant spirit intent on marrying him. But that’s not the cool part. The cool part is he goes on his journey with Byron, Shelley, and Keats who I believe are also being hunted by the spirit. That’s right. A horror novel with my favorite poets. I literally don’t know what else to say except that we are all terrible people for not reading this right now

“Byron had drawn his pistol, and was looking closely at the leaves and dirt around him, as if he’d dropped something. “It’s — do keep calm now — it’s right over your head. I suppose you could look, if you can do it slowly.”

Crawford felt drops of sweat run down his ribs under his shirt as he slowly forced the muscles of his neck to tilt his head up; he saw the upper slope, bristling with trees that obstructed a view of the road, and then he saw the outer branches of the tree he was braced against, and finally he gathered his tattered courage and looked straight up.

And it took all of his self-control not to recoil or scream, and he was distantly resentful that he couldn’t just die in this instant.”

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente (TBR)

Honestly I don’t know all that much about this other then it’s inspired by Russian fairytale, and that there are Stalinist house elves. To be perfectly frank once I read the phrase “Stalinist house elves”, I didn’t actually need any more convincing then that.

“You humans, you know, whoever built you sewed irony into your sinews.”

The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell (TBR)

Zombies! I had to include at least one zombie novel on this list. I don’t know much about this one either, other then that it is a dark and gritty zombie book. A teenage girl named Temple is on the run from a killer while she is also trying to survive in a world destroyed by zombies.

“…and she’s thinking of rage, like an ember or a burning acid swallowing up her knotted viscera. Blindness like the kind that leads men to perpetrate horrors, animal drunkenness, the jungles of the mind.”

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones (TBR) 

A coming of age tale about a boy living on the outskirts of society with his family. His family are Mongrels, people of mixed blood, neither human nor inhuman. He spends his childhood wandering from around the south with his family, waiting to see if he to will become a werwolf like the rest of his family. It looks to be a dark, sometimes humorous story of a boy trying to find his place in the world, and decide where he belongs.

“Being a werewolf isn’t just teeth and claws,” she said, her lips brushing my ear she was so close, so quiet, “it’s inside. It’s how you look at the world. It’s how the world looks back at you.”

The Bronte Myth by Lucasta Miller

(Recently I read The Bronte Myth by Lucasta Miller, and wrote this. It’s a review mixed in with ramblings of my personal history with the Bronte sisters.)

I was twelve the first time I picked up Wuthering Heights. I read it twice in a row, and afterwards felt as if I had been changed is some inexplicable way- for better or worse I couldn’t quite say, but I knew I was affected nonetheless. After my journey through the moors was complete, I flipped to the front of the book and read the introduction. And yes, I was fascinated to read and analysis of Wuthering Heights, but what really caught my attention was Emily. Her supposedly dark and dreary childhood, filling her time in an imaginary world she created with her siblings, publishing a groundbreaking novel under a male pseudonym, I was hooked. Never before I had been so fascinated by an author. I read Charlotte’s biographical notice of her sisters, then her preface to Wuthering Heights, and made a snap second decision that I despised her. At twelve I wasn’t quite able to grasp why Charlotte would be practically apologizing for both of her sisters’ works, and as a young budding feminist with a twenty first century mind and morals, I was appalled. It was obvious Charlotte didn’t quite understand Wuthering Heights, and found the work morally uncomfortable, which in turn made me uncomfortable with Charlotte. I read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (which I adored), and you can imagine my horror when I discovered Charlotte had refused its republication after Anne’s death- that cemented my dislike of Charlotte for years to come.

I did of course read Jane Eyre, and I of course loved it. But I had some strange separation in my mind, refusing to acknowledge that if Charlotte could write such an amazing work of art (and create the character Jane!), then perhaps she wasn’t all that bad. Even when I read biographies, articles, whatever new Bronte thing I could get my hands on (and there was always something new), I was never able to like her. The Bronte Myth was able to open my eyes. It was able to finally get me to let go of twelve-year-old judgment I stubbornly refused to let go of, and acknowledge the reasons she had to appear like an upstanding Victorian in order to survive, and protect her reputation. Not everyone can be Mary Shelley, or George Elliot, and you can’t expect all women to be so ahead of their time. Charlotte in her writing was radical, but in reality she was very much a prim and proper Victorian lady- and while I would never want that for myself, it’s not something to condemn Charlotte for.

My fascination with the Brontes was never new of unique. The Bronte sisters have captured the public’s interest since they’re identities as three spinsters were revealed (even before the big revelation, as is discussed), and The Bronte Myth by Lucasta Miller looks into that ongoing cultural fascination, and how our perception of the Brontes has evolved over the years. The first 184 pages discusses Charlotte, and how the myths surrounding her have evolved, and how she herself created many of them in order to shield her and her sisters from public scrutiny. The remaining 103 pages take a look at Emily, and mainly different biographers takes on her through the years, and how her elusiveness has helped her gain the mythic status she currently possesses. Unfortunately the author does not deem Anne a subject worthy of discussion, which is incredibly disappointing. I can understand to a certain extant- Anne is not as well known, well read, or as well beloved as her other two sisters, and therefore does not have the same cultural wealth surrounding her- but I think she was worth at least a chapter or two! A chapter discussing the reasons why she is not as well known would have been interesting! (When Miller discusses how Charlotte’s portrayal of Emily as an uneducated provincial girl, both helped and hindered her sister’s legacy, it would have been the perfect time to discuss how Charlotte outright destroyed Anne’s own legacy. Anne’s clear masterpiece was The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and Charlotte preventing its republication after Anne’s death, was a terrible, and disgusting act, that I believe hurt Anne in the long run. Though in the short term it was an act to help save her sister’s reputation.) I found the parts showing how Charlotte herself shaped the image of Emily after her death a wonderful discussion to be had, and it will likely be of interest to any major Wuthering Heights fans. Miller, more then any other author I’ve come across, delved into the rich intellectual life Emily must have had, and I found that gratifying. To often Wuthering Heights is portrayed as an accidental masterpiece, when it was in fact painstakingly crafted by a well-read genius, very much aware of what she was creating.

The book, as stated previously, is separated in two, the first half being Charlotte’s. When I picked this up I was unaware of the separation and was worried the book only discussed Charlotte- so just be aware that you won’t get much Emily until later. As someone who prefers Emily over Charlotte, it is only natural I found Emily’s half more intriguing, as I imagine anyone more interested in Charlotte would find the first half to be the superior. The entire thing however is great. Charlotte’s half is a bit more thorough I believe, and documenting how Charlotte herself created the myths surrounding her family was fascinating.

I have a few criticisms (in an ironic twist, during the chapter Miller is discussing the lies of psychobiography, she does a bit of psychoanalyzing herself, and I felt the evidence she provided- really there was none- was insufficient), but only one that I think hindered the book in the long run. The book does what it says on the tin- discussing the legacy of the Brontes. However, I think it would have been beneficial to discuss how perceptions of the novels (mainly Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights) have evolved through the ages. She does this a bit with Wuthering Heights, but not with Jane Eyre, and it was disappointing. Jane Eyre has such a rich history surrounding it, and not exploring it more thoroughly is simple a crime.

So do I recommend this book? Yes- but only to Bronte enthusiasts. It is not just necessary to have read their novels; you have to be well and truly obsessed with the Bronte’s to get this book completely. If you are a budding Bronte enthusiast read some biographies on them, and only after accumulating some knowledge (and perhaps holding some of your own misconceptions, as is almost inevitable) do I suggest picking this up. This is a book for people belonging to the Bronte cult- and while I think someone with a basic knowledge of the sisters could read an enjoy this; I don’t think they will get the full experience out of this book as the ones more obsessed.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years.

This book has spellbound me. Naomi Novik has created a beautiful story, and it ensnared me like The Woods she writes of. But first…
I want to start off by stating that I really enjoyed this book. I found it incredibly fun, and incredibly endearing. Overall it was a simply charming fairytale, and it hooked me. That doesn’t mean I’m blind to its faults, and it does have faults. I went in having read two kinds of reviews with little in-between. One kind of review being a glowing five star, singing Uprooted all the praises they could think to bestow upon it- one even called it a masterpiece. The second kind was a one star review taking about how this was one of the worst novels they had ever read, and how they wished they hadn’t wasted their time reading it. I read one angry rant that was quite startling in is clear visceral hatred. So naturally when I began reading I was hesitant as to what I would find- and ultimately I think I’m one of the rarer people who falls in-between of the two extreme viewpoints.

There was a song in this forest, too, but it was a savage song, whispering of madness and tearing and rage.

Firstly you have to remember jumping in that while this book is a fantasy, it is first and foremost a fairytale. And despite the similarities, those two things are quite different. The characters aren’t very well developed, the magic system is pretty shallow compared to the kinds of magic I read in most fantasies, and the plot is fast (so fast I got whiplash with how quickly things progressed). I’m not saying all fairytales are like this, especially nowadays with the more in depth retellings, but in my mind this was an old style fairytale. I found the characters and the magic (as thin as they were) incredibly fun, so while I could intellectually see the flaws and why some people would be annoyed, I didn’t care because I was having to good a time.

It starts of with a familiar tale. There is a man in a tower who every ten years takes on of the village girls in tithe to come live with him. He releases them after the ten years is up, free to do whatever they please, and dowry to help them. Nobody knows what happens up there. The girls never come back to the village to live, they all pack up and leave.

Agnieszka is a dragon born girl, but she is certain she will not be picked. She clumsy, not that beautiful, she doesn’t not have the markers of a heroine. Her best friend Kasia however does, and everybody believes she will be the chosen one. However since Agnieszka is our main character, she is of course chosen. It’s a story rooted in Slavic fairytale, though it also has the familiar Beauty and the Beast story we are all accustomed to.

The unraveled threads of my magic were gradually coiling back into my skin.

The magic system, despite lacking in detail, was enchanting (HA! See what I did there? Only funny to me? Okay, sorry, moving on…), and the dichotomy between the two different ways of wielding magic, and how it came together was a real payoff, and made up for a lot. Not to mention Novik’s beautiful description of characters weaving their spells. Still I found Agnieszka came into her abilities much to rapidly for my taste, and more explanation would have been nice. The use of Jaga (Baba Yaga), or the shadow of her really, was well done- though I longed for her to appear, and not just lurk between the pages. Though in the end that was probably a more effective way of telling the story, and my wanting is a symptom of the skillful use of this device.

He was a thing of books and alembics to me, library and laboratory.

Despite having borderline one-dimensional characters, I found the dimensions they did posses enjoyable. Agnieszka and the Dragon’s interactions were super fun- I’m a sucker for love hate relationships, and the banter between the two was great. Some may not like the relationship between the two, but I felt it developed nicely, and surprisingly steadily, considering how hyper fast everything else in the novel moved along. The captor/captee aspect was dealt with smoothly, so there was not any kind of ick factor in regards to the progression of their relationship. I didn’t care a whit about Kasia though. Usually I’m all for strong female friendships, but I felt no attachment to Agnieszka and Kasia’s friendship whatsoever. There isn’t much of a basis for the friendship- the reader is just kind of told they’re best friends, but the reasons for it are simply not shown. And more to the point, I found Kasia boring and wanted her out of the way. Characters who are written to be perfect are probably my biggest pet peeve, and while Kasia did not send me into a rage as some other characters have before, I couldn’t make myself like her either. I was just ambivalent towards her- longing for her to get out of the way, or at least have the decency to develop a few flaws if she was so determined to stick around. Agnieszka to has a bit of the same problem as Kasia. It’s not that Agnieszka is perfect- it’s that she has a serious case of being the “special one”. It didn’t become annoying until abut halfway through the novel when I just felt she had become far to special- far to “different”- to be believable, and it quite honestly took some of the enjoyment away from me.

I wanted to rub handprints through his dust.

The fast paced plot was jarring to me at times. I would have appreciated more quiet moments, more introspection- but perhaps that is just me trying to make the novel into something it was never meant to be. The concept of The Woods was a great one, and did not just add to the atmosphere of the fairytale, but was a unique antagonist, that could have been cheesy if written poorly, but in this case felt like an honest threat. All in all I would highly recommend this book, despite its faults. It’s a lighthearted, fairytale romp- but if you go in expecting Catherynne M. Valente you are going to be disappointed. Think more Howl’s Moving Castle, which I believe is a fairly apt comparison, though in truth I would have to say Howl’s Moving Castle is by far the superior of the two. But really, despite the criticisms I gave, I truly enjoyed Uprooted. I was completely enamored, and liked it enough to go out and buy a hard copy despite the fact that I bought it initially as an eBook. I also created a Pinterest mood board for Uprooted because I was so taken by the story. That’s a pretty good sign, I think.