Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

UprootedUprooted by Naomi Novik

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Stand Alone/Book 1

Publisher: Del Rey (May 19, 2015)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I was excited when I learned that Naomi Novik would be writing a new fantasy novel “rooted in folk stories and legends” in the vein of Grimm Fairy Tales, and even more excited now that I’ve read it and the book has exceeded all my expectations. I’m already a fan of Novik’s from reading her Temeraire series, but not only is Uprooted quite a departure, the change is also like an exhilarating breath of fresh air.

The story of Uprooted is simply spellbinding, with magical elements and traditional Polish fairy tale influences, all superbly woven into the fabric of the narrative. We begin with an introduction to our protagonist Agnieszka, just another simple girl from yet another simple village, but the bucolic setting belies something more sinister lurking beneath the surface. Surrounding Agnieszka’s valley home is the ever encroaching Wood, a forest filled with dark energies and spirits, whose corrupting force has trapped and stolen the lives and minds of many.

Every so often, the wizard in the tower will descend to the valley and work up powerful spells to drive away the malicious effects of the Wood. Cold and aloof, this sorcerer also known as the Dragon helps the villagers keep the evil at bay, but also exacts a steep price: every ten years, he chooses one young woman and takes her away to live in his tower until she is released and the next choosing begins again. No one really knows why he takes the girls, but there is speculation of course, and none of it is good. Agnieszka will be up for the choosing this year, but the villagers already know that the Dragon will take bright, bold and beautiful Kasia, Agnieszka’s best friend who exemplifies everything the wizard looks for. So it was a shock to everyone, most of all to Agnieszka herself, when the Dragon ends up passing over Kasia and chooses our poor, discombobulated protagonist instead.

But life with the Dragon was much different than she’d expected, of course. In an intro that has shades of Beauty and the Beast, Agnieszka discovers that the wizard can be reticent and brusque, but he’s not altogether unkind, the bountiful insults he hurls at her notwithstanding. She even learns his real name – Sarkan. The two of them negotiate an unspoken agreement for a peaceful, if not completely cordial, coexistence. But then they discover that Agnieska actually possesses a talent for magic full of untapped potential, which complicates things. And then comes the news of more corruption by the Wood and rumblings of war from the royal family at the capital, which complicates things even further. Out of necessity more than anything, Agnieszka and Sarkan start experimenting with casting their magic together, even though their spellcasting styles are vastly different.

Let me just say right off that I don’t think Uprooted is a Romance; all the romantic elements could have been scrubbed from the story and it would still have read just as smoothly and worked just as well. But that just makes it even more amazing to me! Those who know me know that I’m not one to fawn (and I mean really fawn) all over love stories or develop crushes on fictional characters. That’s just not my style, nor have I come across many authors who can write a romance arc which could warrant that kind of reaction. But brava, Naomi Novik has done it! There were really only two scenes of what you would call “red hot nookie”, but it was enough; the sexual tension in the deliciously slow-burning relationship between Sarkan and Agnieszka had me fanning myself. Whew!

uprooted status 2

More amazing is that Novik utilizes two tropes that normally would have had me grinding my teeth, but somehow, they just worked here. The first trope is the older and more experienced male mentor with the young, just-coming-into-her-power female apprentice. The second is the “Male love interest who is a jerk and treats our heroine/protagonist like crap” trope (I swear, he calls her an idiot or insinuates that she’s a dullard at least once in every chapter the two of them appear together), because we all know bad boys are sexy, right? Well, whatever floats your boat, but that just has no appeal to me at all. But then why did it work so well with the Dragon/Sarkan here? I still don’t really know. If I could hazard a guess though, I would chalk it up to the author’s skill at drawing up her characters so that Sarkan became a very real entity, allowing me to compartmentalize his foibles and even understand the reasons for them. He may be unpleasant, but he’s honorable and well-intentioned.

Perhaps my only complaint is that the book ran a tad too long for my tastes, and there was just not enough of Sarkan (can you tell my character crush is showing?) because he is absent for almost half the book after Agnieszka heads to court. But these little quibbles are overwhelmingly outweighed by the good parts. The world of Uprooted is a fairy tale land brought to life, held in the clutches of a villain which turns out to be an evil forest. Kudos to Novik for pulling that off. Using vivid imagery and a complex system of traditional magic, she makes the idea of the spiteful and malignant living Wood truly terrifying. The type of magic envisioned here also fits the tone of the book. Novik portrays it as an ancient and mysterious force, its effects erratic and malleable in different magic users’ hands (I still can’t get over the excitement of those crazy mage battles!) This rich blend of dark and whimsical complements the fairy-tale feel of the story perfectly.

All told, Uprooted was truly captivating. I’m getting these pleasant little shivers up my spine just thinking about the book again. Fans of Naomi Novik will not be disappointed. That magical, adventurous quality in her writing which first made me fall in love with His Majesty’s Dragon is alive and well, presented here in a different but just as irresistible package. Highly recommended.


31 Comments on “Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik”

  1. Oh this one sounds so good and different! I love the fact that it’s inspired by Polish fairy tales, we don’t see that often and it’s really intriguing! I’m glad this first book ended up so good for you!


    • That was probably one of my favorite things about this book (apart from the romance, of course :P) – the fact that this explores fairy tales outside the traditional stories was a breath of fresh air.


  2. I will be honest, I burned out on her other series and at first this one wasn’t calling my name. But as everyone seems to love it now I simply must read it.

    Funny how that works.


    • I’m right there with you, I think I read up to book 5 or 6 of Temeraire and burned out. I was so ready for something else from the author, and so I was quite excited when I first heard about this one.


  3. Ha ha, it definitely sounds like you have a “book boyfriend” in Sarkan, Mogsy. 😉 This is a wonderful review, and one that makes me lean even closer to reading Uprooted for myself. This book wasn’t on my radar until reviews started coming through recently, and everyone seems to love it so far. So I want in now!


  4. I just started reading this book last night, and so far I’m enjoying it quite a bit. The Dragon makes me want to smack him senseless sometimes, with his attitutde, but other than that I have no complaints. :p


    • I agree, he’s a big curmudgeony jerk-ass. Ugh, so WHY DO I LOVE HIM SO MUCH!? I swear, this book has completely turned my feelings upside down, normally I despise characters like the Dragon but in this instance I am just so taken with the relationship dynamics.


  5. I’m nearly finished with this, although it’s taking me a LONG time to read it. Very dense and intricate storytelling, and not a quick read for me. I do love the Dragon, and I’m looking forward to the “red hot nookie” you’re talking about! I think he’s acting like an ass to her because he’s one of those guys who doesn’t know how to share his feelings. See, I love him so much I’m making excuses for him, lol!


  6. I’m getting little shivers just reading your review. I so want this. I saw it on Netgalley but it’s not available UK yet so I will just have to sit and wait, impatiently drumming my fingers.
    Great review.
    Lynn 😀


  7. I SO NEED this book to be in my hands. The positive reviews keep coming so I just KNOW I’m missing out. Like you, I’m not especially big on romances so the fact that this one made you swoon SO hard, despite the usage of more common tropes, has me veeerrryyyy curious to witness it all for myself 😀 I’ve never read anything by this author but this looks like the perfect place to start^^ Wonderful review! xx


    • I was surprised at how much the romance worked for me too! Usually I just don’t get why people swoon for characters or are so gung ho about a fictional relationship. Now I know it’s because I’ve never come an author who can pull it off until now. I was so impressed!


    • LOL, I know – it was very in-your-face. I started actually counting how many times he calls her names. I know, I know, he’s such an ass but I just love him, can’t help it.


  8. I can finally comment on this review – I’ve been avoiding reviews of this book for days, because I didn’t know how to write a review without influencing myself by reading others 🙂
    Yep, Sarkan definitely took a place among my book crushes! And that sex scene is so hot – but I love how she was clear the whole time that it wasn’t LOVE (not then, in any case), more a bad case of lust and desperation. It’s so rare to see good sex in ya novels – I mean not that I want ya novels to be packed with it, but the attitude towards sex is usually skewed (either slut shaming or idealizing it and calling it love).


  9. I didn’t realize the folktales used were Polish. It definitely felt like a fairytale. I though Sarkon was just Dragon in the magic language heh oops. I’ve wanted to read her dragon series for a while Noe. I’m glad you like that too! I also dislike the bad boy thing, but it so works here! The Dragon was my favorite!


  10. To be honest, I loved the idea of the Temerane stories, but I wasn’t completely sold for them. I only read the first and I was content with that.

    This story sounds good, though… and then I like fairy tales retelling.
    On my TBR list 🙂


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