Uprooted is a fantasy fairy tale. I went in with high hopes, but this novel had as much flavour as a vat of cold celery soup.
Our protagonist, Agnieszka, lives in Dvernik, a backwater village on the edge of an evil wood, protected by a mysterious, unlikable wizard in a tower. The Dragon, as he is called, chooses a girl every ten years to be his companion. All these women return forever changed, and when Agnieszka is chosen (surprise, surprise…), she must discover why.
In trying to write a fantasy/fairy tale/adventure/romance, Novik manages to write something which is none of these things, and overall, nothing much at all. I think that the main problem the novel suffers from is ‘flitting’. There is a lot of ground, and not much depth, as though the author was more concerned with getting to the finish than getting there in an exciting way.
There were bits of this book that I quite liked, more bits that I didn’t, and some I really despised. The highlight is probably The Dragon, essentially a grumpy neat freak with intimacy issues. He’s not one of the best characters I’ve ever read, but he was, in places, amusing. The mythology created (or used) is also interesting, but Uprooted unfortunately lacks the oomph to do it justice.
Less impressive was the romance, which was far from compelling. In the zenith of passion, there is a sense that The Dragon kind of likes Agnieszka, and Agnieszka likes The Dragon, but in the same way as a familiar piece of furniture. The sex is horny, but lacking in emotional maturity. I think this novel is meant to be adult, but in a lot of places it reads like generic YA dusted with blood and halfway explicitness.
Another point not worthy of comment is the friendship between Agnieszka and her supposed close-as-a-sister friend Kasia – just wet. Also, the writing is only passing decent, and in the host of secondary characters there is not one who is memorable, original, or in any way interesting.
There are fewer things I really didn’t like, but one of them is the weird sexual assault that Agnieszka suffers early in the novel, which is then later pretty much brushed under the carpet. Our love interest’s reaction amounts to ‘well it’s kind of your own fault, but I made the guy forget, so who cares?’ Why was that scene there, Novik? What was it meant to be?
Also this Mary-Sue protagonist. Pack your bags and get out of my reading, girl. It’s quite sad really. Novik seems to think that just because Agnieszka isn’t the most attractive girl, this is viable excuse for her to be the best magician of the age, despite having had little to no training. She is an expert strategist, despite having never left her village, a brilliant healer, and the only person really capable of understanding The Dragon, as no one ever has…
Personally, I am so over this type of character. I want everyone flawed, and not just nicely flawed, but actually imperfect, conflicted, and with something to overcome. Agnieszka is not insufferable, but nor does she face any real challenges, or grow.
All in all, an almost rotten read. One or two good scenes, and a couple of nice similes, but really overrated. Novik, it seems, is better at with winged reptiles than wizards, so I’ll stick to Temeraire.