Uprooted

uprootedEvery ten years, the Dragon comes to the village of Dvernik and selects a 17-year-old girl to take back to his tower. Despite the rumors outside the village, he doesn’t eat them—he’s actually a wizard named Sarkan. And this wizard doesn’t lay a hand on the girls he takes. But ten years after being taken, each girl returns changed, unwilling to marry or to stay in the village.

Agnieszka, the narrator of this novel by Naomi Novik, will turn 17 during a Dragon year, but she’s not concerned about being taken herself. She, like everyone in Dvernik, knows that her beautiful best friend Kasia will be the Dragon’s choice. Of course, as someone who had read a book before, I wasn’t surprised when the choice was different and Agnieszka ended up in the Dragon’s tower.

Agnieszka was chosen not for her beauty or wit but because the Dragon saw that she had magical gifts and those with a gift must be trained. After a bumpy start, when the Dragon treats Agnieszka with disdain no matter what she does, Agnieszka begins to find her power—and a powerful partnership with Sarkan. As Agnieszka learns to use her power to protect those she loves, she confronts an evil with the power to corrupt not just her village, but the entire universe.

This fantasy, which draws on the Baba Yaga legend, has a lot to recommend it. I was especially drawn in by the descriptions of the magic itself, which is depicted as something like music, requiring both intense study and natural talent. Each witch and wizard has a particular style. Sarkan’s magic is precise, following the formulas carefully. Agnieszka’s is more improvisational, as she lets the words show her what to do. Making magic together requires the two voices to find a way to blend while retaining their particular unique qualities because no one style of magic is superior. What seems to be important is that each person find his or her own style.

The world Novik has created is just as rich as the system of magic. It doesn’t take long for the story to expand beyond the village and the tower. Personally, I found the story rather larger in scope than I would have liked, and I struggled a bit to maintain my interest when Agnieszka ended up at the royal court. I could appreciate what Novik what doing, but I think when it comes to fantasy, I love the stories that are about learning the rules and harnessing the magic properly. Fantasy politics, even skilfully depicted, are often tedious to me.

But to give Novik credit, even when it comes to my specific preferences, she centers the story squarely on Agnieszka and her desire to protect those she loves. The politics come into play only when they mean her people could be hurt. As the story goes on, her areas of concern expand to include more than her family and friends, but her fears and doubts remain the core of the narrative. And this brings up another thing that I appreciated about the book. Agnieszka is supremely talented, but she makes mistakes, some of which are quite serious. Yet her actions, perhaps especially her mistakes, are what lead to a needed disruption of the status quo. Being young in her power, she needs to learn a lot, but her youth also brings fresh eyes and a different set of priorities.

Novik is best known for her Temeraire books, a fantasy series I’ve seen described as Patrick O’Brian with dragons. Perhaps I’ll check those out after I finish O’Brian’s books. If you’ve read them, what did you think?

I received an e-galley of this book for review consideration via Edelweiss.

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10 Responses to Uprooted

  1. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review says:

    I’ve read all the Temeraire books so far. I think that Novik did a great job of bringing a fantasy element into a nineteenth century context, something that doesn’t always work for me. The human and dragon characters are also wonderfully drawn and memorable. Politics are involved, but not overwhelmingly so. I have found that the series goes on and on a bit (not as long as Aubrey/Maturin, however!) and am not sorry to see it end with the ninth volume. I was very excited to see that Novik had written another type of fantasy and can’t wait to read it!

    • Teresa says:

      I often love historical fiction/fantasy mash-ups, so the Temeraire books really appeal to me–but not until I finish Aubrey/Maturin. If the politics are based on real historical stuff, I won’t mind it as much either because I won’t have to figure as much out.

  2. Jenny says:

    “as someone who had read a book before” lolololol

    • Teresa says:

      But to be fair to Agnieszka, she didn’t know she was in a book, so she had every reason to be surprised. (And Novik dispenses with the suspense quickly–probably knowing her readers will see what’s coming from the book jacket.)

  3. I loved the first Temeraire book and then loved the subsequent ones less, to the point that I stopped reading the series. But I know a bunch of people who continued to love it all the way through.

    Fantasy politics, you say, are not your thing? Interesting! I love fantasy politics — well-done fantasy politics are my total favorite. Real or imagined court intrigue, I eat it up like cake.

    • Teresa says:

      I’ll probably give the Temeraire books a try at some point, but based on your and Lori’s comment, I won’t expect the series to remain consistently strong.

      I love the magic world-building stuff—how to do spells, control one’s powers, figure out good vs. evil, etc. I’m interested in individual character stories, but I tend to zone out whenever a fantasy novel gets into which kingdom is fighting with which kingdom and which faction is angry with which other faction. It took me a couple of readings of the Lord of the Rings to care enough to pay close attention to what Gondor was and how it relates to Rohan and what the various Elf kingdoms were. The only exceptions I can think of offhand are the historical-type fantasies, like Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I can admire the craft in creating those kinds of stories, as I did here, but they aren’t my favorites.

  4. Lisa says:

    I love the first Temeraire book so much, but I have also found my interest dragging a bit with the later ones – partly because she has changed the history so much. Though I am anxious to see how she wraps things up in the last book.

    I have put this one on my library list.

    • Teresa says:

      Based on the comments here, your experience isn’t unusual. But if the first books are great, which everyone seems to agree that they are, I’ll probably give it a try at some point.

  5. I’ve put this one on hold at my library. I keep reading intriguing reviews of it! I didn’t realize it was a play on the Baba Yaga legends. This only makes me want to read it even more!

  6. Pingback: Uprooted by Naomi Novik | Unbridled Enthusiasm

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