27 July 2015

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted by Naomi NovikI love fantasy and I love a good fairy tale retelling, so it's not surprising that I gave Naomi Novik's Uprooted a try. I may have expected to like the story, but I was surprised by how quickly I became invested in this book.

What's it about? Agnieszka grows up under the shadow of an evil forest--one that captures people and animals, corrupting them or trapping them forever. The village's sole protection is the wizard, known as the Dragon, who lives in the tower. The only thing he requires is a girl from the village to serve him. He picks a 17-year-old every 10 years, releasing the previous young woman as she is replaced. As the choosing approaches, Agnieszka is among the candidates, but the only thing she's worried about is losing her best friend, Kasia, who will surely be picked because she's the most beautiful. The Dragon, however, makes the surprise decision to take Agnieszka, who must make a new life in the tower. It is there that the girl learns her own true nature, the meaning of friendship, and perhaps even a way to defeat the forest.

The heart of the story: Although the framing plot concerns the battle between good and evil and how the wizards and witches and armies fare in their ongoing fight against the woods, there are several other important layers to the novel, such as Agnieszka's awakening to life, to herself, to magic, and to the world outside her little village. The core of the story, however, revolves around Agnieszka and Kasia's friendship, and here is where the strength and beauty of the novel can be found. I loved the maturation of their relationship as it grew from one of childhood playmates to one of partners in the war against the woods to that of adult companions as they both find their callings.

Notes on the genre: I would classify Uprooted as a fantasy, but Novik includes many elements of fairy tales in Agnieszka's story. Baba Yaga is mentioned several times, although she doesn't make a direct appearance. In addition the relationship between Agnieszka and the Dragon has elements of Beauty and Beast. There is an enchanted (in this case very evil) forest, complete with strange and dangerous creatures. There are fruits that shouldn't be eaten, and waters that shouldn't be drunk. And, of course, there are wizard and witches who can cast a variety of spells and brew up magical potions. Agnieszka's journey to the tower also has elements of the hero's quest, as famously defined by Joseph Campbell: She is a reluctant hero who finds her inner powers and puts them to use for the greater good.

The characters: Despite the fairy tale elements, the characters in Uprooted are not one-dimensional. For example, although some people are clearly more good than evil, no one is without uncaring actions, mistakes, and uncertainties.The dynamics between the characters seem realistic and are developed at a believable pace.

Recommendations: Naomi Novik's Uprooted is a must-read for anyone who likes fantasy, magic, and/or fairy tale retellings. But I would also recommend the novel to those who like stories of strong female friendships, great characters, and stories about growing up and self-discovery.

Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook edition of Uprooted (Random House Audio; 17 hr, 43 min) is read by Julia Emelin. While I'm sure her pronunciations of the non-English words were probably spot-on, I cannot recommend the audiobook. Emelin's performance was stilted, with little variation in the inflections and full of odd pauses. Unfortunately, the audiobook had a strong negative impact on my enjoyment of Uprooted; in fact, I think this could have been one of favorite books of the year, if I had read the entire novel in print. By the time I switched off the audiobook, however, I couldn't get Emelin's narration out of my head, and it was too late for me to imagine my own voices.

Published by Penguin Random House / Del Rey, 2015
ISBN-13: 9780804179034
Source: Review (audiobook) & bought (print) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Molly 7/27/15, 7:54 AM  

I struggle with fantasy, but do like the concept of fairy tale retellings (I've even read a few in the past and enjoyed them!) - so I think I will give this one a try.

bermudaonion 7/27/15, 8:58 AM  

This would be perfect for my sister!

rhapsodyinbooks 7/27/15, 9:21 AM  

Sounds like a must-read for me, for sure!

Vasilly 7/27/15, 10:34 AM  

I have this book on hold at the library. My daughter and I love fairy tale retellings, so I think this book will be a great read aloud for us. It's too bad that the audiobook was so bad. :-(

Vicki 7/27/15, 1:59 PM  

This sounds interesting. I haven't read fantasy in a long time.

westmetromommy 7/27/15, 2:04 PM  

I've been considering picking up this one. Thanks for the tip on the audiobook--I don't think I'd be able to make it through that recording the way you described it. However, the book does sound like it would be a great read!

Katherine P 7/27/15, 4:36 PM  

I love fairy tale retellings and haven't read nearly enough. I'm definitely adding this to my TBR though I think I'll skip the audio version.

Katy McCoy 7/28/15, 8:23 AM  

Thanks for mentioning the problem with the audio book - I know what you mean about the voice sticking in your head. I've reserved a book at the library.

Laura 7/28/15, 9:10 AM  

The book sounds good. Hate it when you get a funky reader for the audiobook. Thanks for sharing your review.

Unknown 7/28/15, 4:14 PM  

I've heard some good things about this one just recently. I'll make sure to read in print, if get get chance to though!

Daryl 7/29/15, 2:41 PM  

sounds like my kind of read ... i will put it on the TBR list, thanks

Hillary 7/30/15, 12:12 PM  

Your review made me want to read this! I put it on my TBR.

Kailana 8/7/15, 10:53 AM  

I had this preordered, but I cancelled it. :( I am hardly reading so it just seemed like a splurge, but now I want to go order it! I am thinking a mini book buying spree is in my future anyway.

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