Author: Naomi Novik
Bechdel Test: FAIL-I couldn’t find anything that I would really class as a conversation between two women that wasn’t about a man, especially as most of Agnieszka’s conversations revolve around the Dragon.
Uprooted was my May #RockMyTBR book and I have to admit that going into it I was kind of in two minds. On the one hand, I’d heard that it had Beauty and The Beast-esque vibes and all the reviews that I’d seen of it were really positive, but on the other, I tried one of Naomi Novik’s other books Spinning Silver, last year and I really couldn’t get into it, so that kind of put me off trying this one. After reading it, my feelings really aren’t any less conflicted than they were before I read it, on the one hand I thought it was a creative concept and I liked reading a fairytale type story with less obvious influences, but it was an incredibly dense book, Novik’s prose was kind of unwieldy and I couldn’t really relate to any of the characters. Here is a short synopsis of the book:
A dark enchantment blights the land
Agnieszka loves her village, set in a peaceful valley. But the nearby enchanted forest casts a shadow over her home. Many have been lost to the Wood and none return unchanged. The villagers depend on an ageless wizard, the Dragon, to protect them from the forest’s dark magic. However, his help comes at a terrible price. A young woman must serve him for ten years, leaving all she values behind.
Agnieszka fears her dearest friend Kasia will be picked at the next choosing, for she is everything Agnieszka is not – beautiful, graceful and brave. Yet when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he takes.
Honestly I’m not even sure how to review this one, the plot was kind of complicated and confusing anyway, and it’s generally meant to be quite a strange story, so it’s difficult to know where exactly to begin.
I’ll start with the writing, since that was one of my biggest bugbears about the story. I’ll admit this is a very me thing, and the writing isn’t necessarily bad, but for me the prose was incredibly dense and kind of unwieldy. I’m not sure if purple is exactly the way to describe it but it was definitely heading that way. Some people like that kind of writing, but I’m not one of them, so from the get go, this was a bit of a difficult one for me to read.
The pacing was incredibly uneven, the first half is incredibly slow and there’s not all that much really happening and then we get the latter third or so and suddenly everything is going at breakneck speed and it’s kind of confusing because things are going so fast that you can’t quite work out what’s going on.
The chapter lengths were also a bit of an issue for me, they’re quite chunky and again on a personal note, I just don’t really like that. I read before bed, so chapter brevity is always a winner for me, it means that I can read more, plus the denseness of the prose meant that the chapters felt even longer than they already are. The book could definitely have been trimmed a few hundred pages, the climax seems to go on for far longer than is actually necessary. I kept thinking the book was over and then it just kept going!
As far as the characters go, for starters there were far too many in the latter portion of the book, as soon as Agnieszka gets to court, suddenly we are introduced to twenty million different people, and I just couldn’t keep them all straight in my head, especially since most of them were barely developed. Agnieszka herself also felt kind of flat to me, I wasn’t really sure what it was about her, but I just felt like I couldn’t connect to her. She also falls kind of into the special snowflake trap, she struggles with magic for a little bit but then suddenly she finds a book and it becomes super easy for her and she doesn’t seem to tire from using it until its convenient for plot purposes. I didn’t need to be reminded every two chapters that Agnieszka was plain and clumsy, but the author did anyway. I just didn’t find her particularly memorable as a heroine and I found that her voice was kind of detached, which meant I didn’t really feel the emotions in the story that I was supposed to.
The Dragon I had issues with for different reasons. He’s kind of a jerk and whilst I did enjoy some of his snarky comments, I didn’t really see what about him I was supposed to like? I do get the appeal of gruff guys, but usually they have a heart of gold underneath and that’s why you love them, The Dragon just came off as a jerk to me. He’s pretty nasty to Agnieszka and honestly I just couldn’t tell what she saw in him.
The romance I also had major issues with. For starters, we have the classic captor/captive trope, which should just die in a hole already, much as I love Beauty and The Beast, I have to admit that I have become ever more uncomfortable with that particular part of the story over the years. He is also over 100 and she is only 17, and whilst I did appreciate that he acknowledged this (most books don’t), it did seem to be glossed over pretty quickly. Plus, I genuinely just didn’t feel the chemistry between the two of them, Agnieszka seemed to feel more for Kasia (her best friend) than she ever did for the Dragon. We also get a very explicit sex scene late on in the book, that didn’t really seem to fit and made me kind of uncomfortable, though I did appreciate that the author made sure to include on page consent.
The magic system is another one of my big issues with this book. IT’S NEVER EXPLAINED. No one explains why certain people have magic and certain people don’t, we don’t know why Agnieszka is so drawn to this particular type of magic that no one else seems to really use, and there’s no hard and fast rules. They seem to be able to just throw out magic until it becomes convenient for the plot for them to be drained.
The Wood was an interesting villain and I liked not having a person, but rather a thing, be the source of evil, but I felt like the explanation for how the Wood turned bad and the corruption started wasn’t really thought through enough. The stakes were also never really that high, even when the characters were in danger, you knew that they were only one good magic spell away from getting out of it.
The ending I found kind of anti-climactic, I think it would have been fine ending off at Chapter 31, but then we get this weird extended epilogue that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and doesn’t really add anything to the story as a whole.
Overall, I liked the concept of this book but found the execution lacking. The first half was far too slow and then the second half was way too fast and confusing, the characters weren’t all that well developed and the plot became difficult to follow the further through the book you got. I don’t think I’ll be trying anything by this author again.
My Rating: 3/5
My next review will either be of Finale, the final book in the Caraval trilogy by Stephanie Garber, or of Romanov, by Nadine Brandes, depending on which one I finish first.