Saturday 23 May 2015

Uprooted by Naomi Novik (Tor UK/Del Ray)

I share my thoughts on the newly released epic fantasy young adult novel by Naomi Novik, Uprooted, published by Tor UK and Del Ray in the USA. It’s currently available to buy now.

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows - everyone knows - that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn't, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

Naomi Novik is the writer of the Temeraire series and it’s something that I’ve been meaning to catch up on for a while now, ever since I really enjoyed reading the first book, His Majesty’s Dragon. So when I saw Uprooted show up on NetGalley recently I leapt at the chance and once I got stuck into it, I quickly devoured it, finishing this spellbinding young adult novel as quickly as I could. It’s just got everything you could want from a YA Fantasy, a well developed world, some strong character focus, no boring, Chosen One clichés, and enough awesomeness to keep you entertained right the way through. If you love epic fantasy, then this is certainly something that you should consider reading, because it’s certainly one of the stronger ones that we’ve had this year.

Most stories take a while to truly get into but that’s not the case with Uprooted – you’re drawn in quickly from the start and Novik refuses to let you go, weaving a compelling, entrancing storyline that focuses on the main female character, Agniezeka, giving her some fantastic depth and making her the strong focus of a character driven story. It’s refreshingly optimistic for a fantasy novel as well, and will come as a breath of fresh air in a market where grimdark fantasy rules. It’s a fairy tale for the modern era, and really impresses in its delivery, serving up an excellently paced standalone novel that leaves a lasting and memorable impression on the reader.

The characters are rich and compelling. Agniezeka, a girl who lives on the border of the corrupt woods, is someone who knows and understands that the Dragon, a cold, wise wizard, demands a terrible price to keep the woods at bay, a young girl from the village that she loves. Agniezeka, much like everyone else, expects the Dragon to take Kaisa, a brave, graceful girl who’s her best friend, and has everything that she doesn’t, serving as the most beautiful girl in the village. The Dragon would be mad to take anyone else but her, right? Wrong. The Dragon’s choosing spell lands on Agniezeka, and her life is changed forever, kickstarting the plot for Uprooted as she finds herself now in the service of the Dragon for the next ten years. However, she has to be watchful, because the threat of the woods is ever present.

Novik uses a few clichés in Uprooted, primarily in the character department, such as the elder mentor to the younger main character (Obi-Wan Kenobi, Gandalf and Dumbledore all say hello), and the love interest to the main protagonist who acts like a jerk. However, when clichés are written well it doesn’t really matter that they’re clichés at all, and that’s very much the case with this novel, with the characters feeling so real that they somehow manage to feel fresh and exciting despite the fact that we’ve seen so many of their kind before. It’s also helped that it’s not just the clichés that are written well, everything is. The magic system is well developed and the world building is fantastic, with the plot having enough depth and moving along quickly enough to keep the reader hooked.

Uprooted is an incredibly captivating read and is something that comes highly recommended for not only fans of Novik’s Temeraire novels, readers looking to try out her work for the first time, but also fans of fantasy and young adult fiction in general. There’s an excellent depth to this novel and it works incredibly well as a standalone, and this is probably another read that’s going to end up on the ‘Best Of’ list come the year’s end.

VERDICT: 9.5/10

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