Naomi Novik, Uprooted
For me a five-star book is something that either I want to read again or something that is so profound it makes an immediate impact. There are lots of ways that books can be compelling: a unique idea, an interesting set of characters, a complex plot, an artistic use of the English language and more. Reading is also a subjective experience, so what appeals to me as a reader may be very different for you. I read a lot for both pleasure and work but these short reviews are a way for me to show my appreciation for the work and the craft of the author of the reviewed work.
I read Uprooted when it came out in 2015 and loved it, and a part of my reading habit is including books that I enjoyed previously and rereading them. I’ve read most of what Naomi Novik has written and this is my favorite of her books. Uprooted is set within a fantasy kingdom where a corrupted and malicious forest yearns to destroy the people who find themselves planted near its boundaries. The region is protected by a wizard named Sarkan, but who is commonly known as the Dragon. Every ten years the dragon selects a seventeen-year-old woman to come to his tower for the next ten years. Agnieszka is the protagonist of the story who is the surprise choice of this immortal wizard to spend the next ten years of her life in the Dragon’s tower. Agnieszka soon proves to be a difficult student but a gifted witch with her own relationship to magic which is more intuitive than Sarkan’s more precise and rigid approach. Despite their different gifts and approaches to magic their gifts weave together to allow them to do magic neither would be able to do alone.
The malicious wood plants devious seeds to attempt to entrap Sarkan and Agnieszka and to provoke confusion and conflict in the surrounding kingdoms. The wood makes an intriguing antagonist with its inhuman and corrupted drive to consume, and its ability to corrupt animals, humans, and objects. The story maintains an air of continual tension where the stakes are the destruction of the two kingdoms surrounding the wood. The wood’s manipulation of the vain Prince Marek springs a devilish trap which threatens to destroy Sarkan and Agnieszka as well as the kingdom. Naomi Novik does an impressive job of articulating a beautiful vision of magic within her world that can move between the elitist and rigid abilities of Sarkan and the folkish and musical abilities of Agnieszka.
Uprooted is both a fantasy story but also a coming-of-age story. Agnieszka as a young woman discovers her talents as a magic wielder and her voice within the political struggles of the kingdom but she is also a young woman discovering attraction. The intertwining of Sarkan’s and Agnieszka’s magical abilities unlocks feelings for both but there is also a vast gap between them to be overcome. It is a dangerous but beautiful world with well written characters, a constant threat of destruction by the environment which seeks revenge on all humanity, and a compelling vision of magic. The book invites you to walk barefoot into these dark woods and stay rooted in the magic of the place.