I was interested in this book because I wanted to read more adult fantasy and was intrigued by the number and quality of good reviewers this story had, promising me that I was holding a new fantasy classic in my hands. While the book did not entirely live up to my expectations, I was also not entirely dissappointed with it, which makes for a nice middle ground.
Uprooted begins with a whole lot of backstory and a-lot of telling and not showing, which if you’re a writer, you know this is something you’re supposed to avoid most of the time. However, it didn’t bother me. Sometimes ‘telling’ is necessary and definitely the fastest way to move the story forward and let the reader catch up with the dynamics of the world before the story finally starts. It’s not a technique I use that much as a writer (I prefer to start right in the middle of the action) but it’s also not something that bothers me as a reader.
So I started reading this and was pretty much neutral about it from the start. The main character, Agniezka, was kind of annoying to me. But the great thing about this book is precisely the wide and great character arc that Agniezka goes through. I went from tolerating the main character in the beginning of the book to admiring her by the time the story was done. I also liked that the book wrapped up its plot line neatly, making it a stand-alone novel. I used to be a big series reader until they started getting worse and wrose, and now I clamor for nice stand-alones, and this book is one of them.
The magic of the fantasy world was also deeply engaging. There are different magic systems here, some more academic and others more fluid and nature-oriented. The main character is a very powerful witch, but she is a peasant. She is not very lettered and certainly not academic or scholarly. The type of magic she finds out she is proficient at later on in the book is of a more fluid, intuitive, and natural sort… which I liked better than the scholarly magic that the other magicians used.
Speaking of other magicians, there is the Dragon (or Sarkan, as we later learn is his real name). He is a powerful wizard who was scorned and duped by a love interest in his youth and now is a stand-offish, irritable and lonely man. He berates and abuses Agniezka during a large part of the book, something she learns to withstand because she can see that deep down, he’s a good man, or at least he’s a man who tries to do the right thing.
Having said that, I was very uncomfortable by the level of abuse Sarkan dispensed on Agniezka. I was even more uncomfortable with their eventual *SPOILER ALERT* sex scene, which was actually very graphic, but that is just a subjective appreciation. Their love story I liked and understood. They had chemistry in a way, and they respected each other as magicians, even though the Dragon didn’t show it at first.
Now for the bad and / or awkward– the book is a nice stand-alone, like I said. However, the story takes its time until it actually decides what it wants to be. The real plot of the novel doesn’t get started until maybe the half point of the book, which is a long time. The first half of the novel is all about introducing the world to us, establishing the magic system, and creating dynamics between the characters. Which is fine… but when joined to the other two parts of the book (Agniezka’s time at court and the final epic battle scenes witht the evil of the woods), it gives the reader the feeling of being a bit disjointed.
It also makes it feel a little aimless, like it lacked direction, or like Agniezka wasn’t really in charge of what happened to her, which makes her out to be a passive character (this is remedied by her actions towards the end of the book).
Regarding the final battle scenes, they felt a bit confusing, and long. Novik shines when describing magic and spells, but with her battle scenes… not so much. I would have benefited from a shorter description of battle, not because I don’t like battle in fantasy books (I do), but because I didn’t find these particular battle scenes that engaging, or the level of description that necessary.
Also, time passed too quickly towards the end of the book. The last few chapters felt more like an epilogue to everything. Entire weeks were summarized in one sentence. This is fine, because like I said, the writer wrapped everything up neatly in one book, but the change of pace also felt somewhat brusque. However, it does work and serve to conclude the story in a way that does it justice.
My favorite part of the book was when Agniezka discovers the source of the wood’s evil or corruption and the description regarding the trees drinking from the poisonous memories of their ancestors. I found this description to be very in line with the type of natural, fluid magic that Agniezka practiced. The nature magical system felt very organic and real to me. I also liked the person Agniezka became towards the end of this book, like I mentioned earlier. She turned out to be a very self-assured, powerful, and confident witch. The character arc was brilliant.
I recommend this book to any fantasy fan and patient reader looking to try something new in the genre. The book is definitely not filled with the common fantasy tropes and feels fresh, even though somewhat disjointed at times.