Review Corner: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

It was an email from Barnes & Noble (great marketing job by the way), that first led me to the book “Uprooted” by Naomi Novik. It was a special offer to purchase two e-reader versions of two bestselling books for half price. I do not own an e-reader nor am I particularly interested in virtual versions of books, I much prefer the real thing, but I was curious once I saw them.
The cover art caught my eye, obviously, which led me to click and took me to the webpage listing on the B&N website for the book. After reading the synopsis, I was not enthralled but I was a little more curious, so I clicked the button allowing me to preview part of the book.
I generally despise sneak peaks and previews of books. I couldn’t honestly even tell you why except that I prefer for the story and my thoughts on it to unfold as they are meant to, as I read them from start to finish…in this case, I decided to take a chance since the preview started at the beginning, the first page of chapter one, so I began.
I read the first two or three pages when it became apparent to me that I would continue reading. Needless to say, I acquired it. I found a hardback version of the book for sale because, well, as I said, bibliophile, I love the real thing over e-reader versions.
After waiting a couple of weeks to finally get my hands on it, I began the story of Nieshka, the Dragon, and the Wood.
Looking at the book as a whole, I would have to say that I enjoyed the journey I took while reading it. I was intrigued with the premise and most of all, painfully curious about what would happen next.
The writing was easy to read, generally simple in style and usage, apart from the tongue stumbling spells and incantations repeated and used throughout the book by the various magic casting characters.
Nieshka has quite a lot on her plate after surprisingly being chosen by the Dragon to essentially become his serving maid, only to find that she is not as ordinary as she had always believed, nor as the Dragon expected. Soon into the story, the reader finds that Nieshka is a witch and has a unique and special gift all her own that not even the Dragon knows or fully understands.
They both stumble and struggle through finding a way that the Dragon’s precise form of magic can be taught to or used by Nieshka’s unorthodox style of magic which generally involves ineffable feelings she has about what is good or bad, right or wrong.
It’s not long before Nieshka answers a cry for help from her own village while the Dragon is otherwise detained. Racing off at break neck pace to aid in any way that she can without knowing much herself, Nieshka truly begins the long, twisting adventure she finds herself in, involving the Wood, the kingdom of Polnya that she lives in, and the village she loves and never imagined leaving.
If you love a story that involves magic, you will probably enjoy the tale told here. The descriptions of magic were often beautiful and the intimacy described when the Dragon and Nieshka combine their magic is believable in its sensual qualities and is imparted to the reader in unique fashion.
However, there are a few things about “Uprooted” that I believe could have made it stronger. To avoid giving away too much information or any possible spoilers, I’ve put my more pointed thoughts below here. So if you’d like to skip particulars, please feel free to skip to the end, and consider it safe after the picture of the kitten under flannel asking if it’s safe to come out.
I feel like the characters were a bit flat, they didn’t seem to grow much or have much explanation for any of their doings and workings beyond a surface level examination of them. Even the title character, Nieshka, has a lack of depth that is surprising given how much ends up happening in the book and how many people she cares about and goes to lengths to protect or save. It’s perhaps also this lack of depth that makes the strange “romance” between Sarkan (the Dragon), and Nieshka seem unnecessary, or like an add-in for affect and attempt at giving the characters feelings and more depth.
The motivations of characters was sorely lacking in explanation, as was much in regards to setting. For instance, upon first learning that she is a witch, Nieshka doesn’t mention at all what this information means to her, her family, or her village. There are no histories, tales, or legends about witches, or even wizards, to shed light on the situation or give the reader any idea whether this is welcome or unwelcome news.  That Nieshka has magical capabilities doesn’t seem to register on any level other than as a vessel for action, was a feeling I never could shake while reading.
Prince Marek and his motivations for his various actions is also an example. He is both despicable enough to attempt to force himself on the main character, and yet is continuously referred to as something out of a song about heroes and knights in shining armor, and whose only true desire is saving his mother from the Wood, where she has been trapped for over 20 years and presumed corrupted or worse. At some points it is hard not to feel like some of the characters are only used to further the story, place holders and action drivers, while not actually having a solid place or purpose in the story, no real emotion or relate able reason to be examined or supposed upon.
At one point in the story, Stashek and Marisha, the two young children of the brutally murdered Crown Prince Sigmund and his wife, Malgorzhata,( also murdered before her children’s eyes), are being smuggled away by Kaisha and Nieshka to save them. All while you want them to succeed, there is no ensnaring your emotions about the futures of Stashek and Marisha and no feeling of loss for their parents other than the shock of their unexpected deaths.
Near the end, a lot happens in quick succession. The small cast of leading characters find themselves in one flight or battle after another, the nemeses only shifting faces and intentions as big and small aspects of the story collide and shift focus from aspects of court to the Wood. Perhaps this feels exacerbated by the seeming lack of profoundness in the characters feelings and desires, but the fast pace near the end almost feels like it may have been too much.
Possible spoilers being over, and criticism aside, the book was worth the read, even if I feel it could be even better. I enjoyed Naomi Novik’s style enough that I’m curious about a series she has been working on that blends dragons and history.
The ending of “Uprooted” was mostly one that I appreciated, though I cannot decide if I actually liked and enjoyed the ending. Nieshka’s life as it is painted after the various battles and revelations concerning the Wood is one that I enjoy picturing and imagining for her. I’m not sure if I’ll read it again or who I would specifically recommend it to, but it’s worth the read.

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