So, we have been home for two weeks now – hard to believe. In this time, I have fought the wild weeds over-running the garden, visited with relatives, started watching The International (Dota 2), and read a few books. Truthfully, there are only two worth mentioning and both of them were rather meh in the end.
I was so very excited to read Uprooted by Naomi Novik. I waited almost an entire year to borrow this book from the library. I read the teaser trailer on several different webpages, always looking for the version that included a few more paragraphs than the last.
The author, Naomi Novik, is not knew. I had read the first three books of her Temeraire Series before becoming bored. But this, this new book looked different. It looked exciting, new and yet with the comforting feel of classic fairy tales. I was excited to read it when I picked it up. I was underwhelmed by the end. It wasn’t bad. It was mostly good. It was just … not as engaging as I had hoped.
So, here is the thing. The book starts in the Valley surrounded by the magical and slightly evil Wood. The Valley is protected by a Wizard known as the Dragon, who requires a sacrifice of one village (a young female) once every 10 years. The Sacrifice serves to take care of chose in the Tower where the Wizard lives, then after their period of servitude is give a small fortune and moves out of the Valley to the City. This is all poorly understood by the villagers in the Valley and thus feared. Our story naturally starts with the selection of a new female Sacrifice.
I liked the opening premise the girl chose was not the prettiest or most special (not the one the Dragon was expected to select). I liked the struggles of the main character as she learned more about the mysterious Wizard. I even liked how you learned more about the Wood and its evil minions.
I also liked the fact this was not an old, established fairy tale. There are definite elements from the classics. The opening feels very beauty and the beast. Baba Yaga makes an appearance of sorts later on. There are witches, magic spells, and evils leaking from the wood.
Everything moves along from the beginning in a rather interesting fashion until almost halfway when suddenly our main character is sent off to the City and the entire plot feels like it slides sideways. The ending seemed to come – if not out of nowhere, then it was rushed and a bit forced. It was not the smoothest transition from start to finish.
The Valley had started as an interesting and developing setting. Which was pushed to the side as the Wood came to life. Then the reader was sent to the City, which never felt real to me. It was underdeveloped. The City was home to the Royal Court, a place of politics and intrigue. But our heroine was not savvy in the ways of Court Politics. She never fit into the location and that entire section of book felt like a tacked on side trip that wasted more time than served to develop the key characters.
We are finally told that betrayal caused one ancient woman (of questionable race – magical and perhaps humanoid) to seek revenge thus poisoning the Wood. Only, this seemed to be an explanation tacked on at the climax of the story with very little setup. Why could we not have skipped the whole City and focused on how one angered female could turn a massive forest into a dark and evil place (and then be defeated so easily by one half-trained witch after existing for hundreds of years)?
In conclusion, it was a mediocre to good book, made disappointing through high expectations and a long wait. If you like Naomi Novik’s other books, you will likely enjoy this one. If you are a huge fan of fairy tales then I would mildly suggest trying Uprooted. If you want something with snappy writing and cleaver dialogue, then I wouldn’t bother. This is an atmospheric book with a plodding plot and a main character that spends most of the time explaining and far less time showing.