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.