Publication Year: 2015
Format: Audio (from Audible.com)
Narrator: Julia Emelin
WHY?: Did you see the gushing reviews of this book? How could I not read it?
I wanted to write and post a review of this book mostly because I have a contrarian viewpoint. I liked it but I didn't love it and even have a couple of criticisms. Horrors! It was a solid 3 to 3.5 star read for me and I'll try to explain why it didn't inspire, in me, the adoration that so many others felt.
However, first things first - the story. The Dragon is a sorcerer who has lived in the valley for as long as folks can remember. He comes to the villagers' aid when the evil Wood gets particularly fractious and in payment, every few years, he takes one of their daughters to live with him in his tower. Agnieszka has never worried that she might be the daughter taken. She's always been a bit of mess; clumsy and awkward, with little talent for anything. It is her beautiful and accomplished best friend Kasia who is believed to be the most likely candidate, so it is to everyone's surprise, including the Dragon's, that Agnieszka ends up accompanying him back to his home. At first it seems that Agnieszka will be just as hopeless at serving the Dragon as she is with everything else but she turns out to be a powerful and unconventional sorceress who greatly helps the Dragon combat the sentient and malevolent Wood.
Hopefully the synopsis gets across that the book has a strong folk tale feel to it that it particularly draws from Russian and Eastern European myths. It has a beautiful and really fascinating and terrifying magic system with Agnieszka's in particular drawing from nature. The foreboding Wood is so well developed and its various menaces are truly horrible - it is a very worthy and unique adversary. In fact the whole book is very richly imagined and the world that Novik presents feels complete and very real. Basically, this book is really great in a number of ways but I want to focus on the things that didn't work for me only because you will have no problem finding reviews that point out all the wonderful. Just know, that while I am focusing on the negative, I did, in fact enjoy the book and would recommend it but with a few caveats.
1) The Plot. While the overarching plot - bitter sorcerer and plucky girl fighting an old and evil adversary - is great and takes a unique form, the execution of said plot was a little slow and rambling for me. I thought the pacing was a little off and the various components of the story didn't quite connect tightly enough. When I think back on the book I think of it in episodes that all seem very discrete and separate instead of a flowing thread of story. Also, frankly, I got bored. Several times. Not enough to stop reading the book altogether but it did not suck me in or pull me along as it seems to have done with others.
2) The Characters. This one is a personal thing that I think would not be an issue for most readers. I have been realizing lately that I have a really hard time connecting with characters who are impulsive and reckless and who don't respect existing systems (aka rule breakers). Agnieszka strongly falls into this category of character and while I didn't dislike her, I also didn't really enjoy reading about her either. So, if you're a repressed rule follower like myself who never does anything without overthinking it and preparing a detailed plan than you might also have trouble connecting with Agnieszka:). Or maybe not. Unfortunately, this repressed reader just wanted to continually roll my eyes at every scrape Agnieszka got herself into.
3) The Romance. This was the most disappointing for me because before reading it, I was SUPER excited by all the descriptions I read of the romance in the book. I'm a fan of the whole May-December thing generally and so many people felt this was a lovely, swoony addition to the story. Unfortunately it left me completely cold. Sarkan (the Dragon) is an ass, beginning to end. By the end, maybe he is a little more grudgingly accepting of the different way in which Agnieszka does magic but that is essentially all that has changed. He never apologizes for how utterly awful he was to her in the beginning of the book. And lets talk about the beginning. Agnieszka does not (nor any of the girls one supposes) have any idea why Sarkan takes girls and of course she imagines the worst. She is a sheltered village girl who has never even been away from home. Sarkan doesn't show her any kindness, which is harsh but I can deal with as a character thing. What was unforgivable was how he explains nothing to her and just lets her stew in terror and continually mess up. He does not explain anything, not for weeks and months. It's nonsensical and really cruddy and feels like it was a cheap way to create some tension in the story. If he had actually taken an hour and laid out the whys and wherefores, we couldn't have had pages and pages of Agnieszka being terrified and angsty about what was happening to her. It was a really icky beginning to their relationship and I feel like Sarkan never really did anything to redeem himself so I was completely confused by why Agnieszka would want anything to do with him romantically. There is a post on The Book Smugglers about the Romantic Douchecanoe trope which sums up my feelings fully and in much better fashion than I just did. This type of romantic hero has never done it for me and Uprooted was not an exception.
What it comes down to in the end, is that there is much in the book that I admired and liked but it fell down in what for me were three pretty key areas. It's probably safe to say that the hype around the book had an effect as well. I had very high expectations and also knew perhaps a little too much about the story to really appreciate it. Most folks will undoubtedly enjoy and many will adore Uprooted. I thought it was just pretty good. And that makes me really sad because I so wish it had given me the same feels as it gave many readers.
FINAL VERDICT: A solid and imaginative folk tale inspired fantasy novel that was just a little too slow and unfocused for me to truly love it. 3.5 out of 5 Stars.
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