Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Published May 21, 2015 by Macmillan.

Links: Goodreads. Amazon. Book Depository. Barnes & Noble.

Source: Publisher. Thank you Macmillan for providing me with an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Genre: YA fantasy.

My rating:

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

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.

zmaj-desno

Ahhh this was one of the best books I’ve read this year. I actually won a copy from Mel in a great giveaway, but it hasn’t arrived yet, but I also got an e-arc from the publisher.

I’ve been thinking about Uprooted a lot since I finished it last week and I have to say it’s probably the best fairytale retelling I’ve ever read. This is why I’ve been putting off writing this review until the very last moment. What can I say that will make you read this book? It’s unique, innovative and surprising, which are all qualities I’ve been missing from my reads lately, and it’s left me with this massive book hungover I’m only beginning to get past. Also: the UK cover is gorgeous, is it not?

Uprooted is a Beauty and the Beast retelling only in the most basic sense: the Dragon (a wizard that goes by this name, not an actual dragon) takes a girl from his valley every ten years and though everyone thought he would pick Kasia, Agnieszka’s best friend, he grumpily decides on Agnieszka herself.

This is where the fun starts. Agnieszka’s time at the Dragon’s tower is exhausting at first because she can’t figure out why he keeps making her do weird things like magically changing her clothes (she’s the most untidy person ever and while lots of YA heroines claim to be “ordinary” or “not pretty in the conventional sense”, Agnieszka usually looks like she was dragged through the bushes and then rolled around on the kitchen floor for a while. This irritates the Dragon to no end, which was really interesting.). I can’t go into details of the story because of spoilers but let’s just say that it seems like Novik took the B&B story and said: “Well, my heroine isn’t just going to wait around to be rescued, she’s going to DO things, even if she can’t escape. She also won’t moon over this wizard guy, she’s got other stuff to worry about.”

Agnieszka is one great heroine. But while she’s perfectly fine on her own, it’s her relationships with others that make her so special. She’s mortally afraid of the Dragon at first but does she wilt like a flower and stop trying to figure him out? Nope. Her relationship with her parents is cool and she’s not above weeping herself to sleep while her mom strokes her hair. Everyone does that sometimes. But I loved her friendship with Kasia the most. For years, they lived with the knowledge (even though it was false) that Kasia would be taken by the Dragon, which created this wonderful dynamic between them. I actually asked myself whether they were more than friends, perhaps, but their love – unconditional and yet so very real – was perfect in any case.

Then there’s the Wood. It’s funny how much of a chicken I am (not really funny for me but I guess people would laugh at me if they ever knew): I was walking in the forest with the kiddo the other day (after reading Uprooted) and I kept squinting into the forest, checking that it wasn’t out to get me. Seriously. I dislike going deep into the woods on my own (hello, have you read ALL THE FAIRYTALES?), especially at night, which made camping with the scouts a special kind of adventure for me! So you’ll understand my horror at reading about a Wood that’s sentient and very, very malicious. Novik created a place of nightmares – and made it worse because it’s spreading. So creepy! And yet beautiful, somehow.

Ok this review is getting out of hand…

My only, teeny-tiny negative comment would be on the length of the novel: towards the end, I felt like it could have been a tad shorter. I read it on my Kindle but Goodreads says it has 450 pages, which isn’t that much for a fantasy novel.

I love that Uprooted is a standalone. I definitely wouldn’t mind reading more stories set in the same world (a quick note on that: the names all sounded vaguely Polish to me and I liked it!) but standalone YA fantasies are so rare nowadays that I cherish this one even more.

The ending was absolutely wonderful and I can’t tell you how happy I am that Novik decided to conclude her book in this manner. I know, this is terribly vague, but I REALLY don’t want to spoil your enjoyment of reading this story. Which you will, right? You will read it? :)

In case you want to read more, here are some other reviews by: Becky. Mogsy. Anya.

zmaj-levo

Have you read Uprooted? Are you planning to?

What YA standalone would you recommend?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

  • I just saw your review pop up on my blog feed and I instantly had to come over and see your thoughts, especially since I wrote my review absolutely ages ago so it’s nice to see what people have to say.

    I’m glad you liked it, I don’t think there was anyway not to enjoy this book because it was so fantastic and unique. I don’t even really consider it a retelling, you can see various elements from different fairytales and folk stories, but this is very much a book of its own, and it was so nice to read a standalone fantasy book for once. I am getting a bit tired of series, I love them, but it takes a lot of dedication to commit to them. I would definitely be willing to revisit this world for other stories, though, because it is so beautifully written that you kind of don’t want to leave.

    I loved both Agnieszka (I will never remember the spelling for this name) and the Dragon’s dynamic, even if you don’t consider any romantic relationship, just the way she can ruffle his feathers and go against his way of doing things was fun. His absolute refusal to accept that how she did magic was instinctive rather than set and methodical was great.

    And Kasia and Agnieszka’s friendship was great. I loved both the jealousy and undying love they had for each other because that is how real friendships go. You both love and hate your best friend in equal measure at times, but you could tell that no matter what they could never give up on each other, not even when all hope appeared lost. It was amazing.

    And I did love the wood, it was both creepy and awesome, and so sneaky and manipulative. I did question how on earth they were going to manage to ever fight against it.

    I just loved this book, I could ramble for days at you explaining why. I think you should check out Thorn if you’re looking for a good standalone novel, it’s very different from Uprooted but it’s a good fairytale retelling. I enjoyed it and it was nice to read something without thinking about how I was going to afford the rest of the series, or waiting for the rest of the books to be released. I definitely need to find more good standalone books, I think.

    • Haha this has to be the longest comment I’ve ever received, thank you! :) It’s as long as the post itself, nearly. WHICH ONLY SHOWS HOW GREAT THIS BOOK IS.

      Yeah I agree it’s not your typical retelling in the sense that it’s more “inspired by” several fairy tales, not “based on” them if that makes sense at all.

      And you’re completely right about A & K – their friendship sounded SO real to me! You can never be “besties” with a person without wanting to pull their hair out from time to time, it comes with the job description. And it’s much the same in a romantic relationship. But the hate-dislike-lust-desperation-possibly-love dynamic that Agnieszka and Sarkan go through is just perfect! It’s been a while since I enjoyed a romance more.

      I saw the review for Thorn on your blog, I vaguely remember making a mental note to get to it at some point. I would love to read more standalones because as you say, series are a huge undertaking, usually, and I don’t like waiting for the publication of sequels, and I’m already in the middle of a MILLION series so I don’t really want to start with new ones.

      • I live for providing others with long essay like comments to read through :D

        I know what you mean about the friendship bit, if you don’t love and hate your bestie sometimes you’re probably not as close as you thought you were. When you are that close with someone they are going to annoy you from time to time, but they always pull through when you need them. And the romance was definitely my favourite one in a while, it didn’t overwhelm the book but you were still rooting for it the entire way because it made perfect sense.

        You should check it out, I really enjoyed it, I think I’m going to start going on the hunt for more fantasy standalones. There aren’t enough of them, or I’m not aware of enough of them.

        • Haha, I like your life goals ;)

          I got Thorn off Netgalley, I didn’t think I’d be approved but I saw it there and gave it a try. I’ll be reading it soon! :) I just remembered another YA fantasy standalone – The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab (you know I’ll never stop championing her!)

          And yes, about the friendship – I think a great test of a solid one is that you can be seriously annoyed with your best friend(s) and still love them anyway. Or have a huge fight and come back from it and drink coffee together like nothing ever happened :)

  • Much love for this, and much love for Sarkan. I completely agree with you, my one and only tiny complaint was that I thought it ran a tad too long. And not enough of the Dragon!!! But…that stems more from my obsession with him than anything :P

    ~Mogsy

    • That part where Agnieszka goes to court was when things were somewhat slow, especially because Sarkan was absent, that’s true. I like how he was never described as a swoon-worthy character, what with all his proper clothes and rigid rules, but the end result is that he’s absolutely wonderful :) I love nerds :)

      • … I like a man with proper clothes and rigid rules … <.<

        LOL

        ~Mogsy

        • Haha :D Sounds like Mr Darcy if you ask me!

  • Jolien @ The Fictional Reader

    I really loved Uprooted as well! I would dislike going into the woods alone after reading this book as well… I also liked that Agnieszka didn’t just moon over the Dragon either, and that she was set on not just sitting in the tower for 10 years while everything passes by. And I loved the friendship of Nieska & Kasia as well. Kasia played a much bigger role in the story than I would have expected her to.

    Really great review!

    P.S. I was looking through my Goodreads shelf to see whether I could recommend a fantasy standalone, and sadly had to admit that The Hobbit was the only one I could think of. I read so much fantasy, where are the standalones?

    • Thanks, Jolien! :)
      I liked how the book didn’t focus all its time on Agnieszka and Dragon’s relationship. It’s so rare these days in YA fantasy that the romance doesn’t take over the entire plot! And yes, I didn’t expect Kasia to be such an important character but I’m really glad she was.

      PS: Have you read Vicious? It’s one of the few standalones I’ve read and it’s pretty great. Stardust, too. Illusions of Fate was nice as well (If you can’t tell, I’m going through my Goodreads “read” shelf as I’m writing this!).

      • Jolien @ The Fictional Reader

        Oh I have read Vicious! I really enjoyed it too. I guess I was unsure about it being a standalone because it is numbered on Goodreads. Although maybe that’s just for a novella or something? I haven’t read Stardust or Illusions of Fate! I’m going to check those out now, thanks!

        • Vicious is numbered?? What? Not that I wouldn’t mind another Victor story ;)
          I liked Stardust better, it’s great. My favourite Gaiman novel for sure (not that I read all of them or anything but still).

  • I haven’t’ read Uprooted but I must correct that mistake soon because positive reviews are poring in. And it sounds like something I would love.

    Ya Standalone… (I am guessing we are talking fantasy lol)… Cruel Beauty! Graceling? (well it can be read as a standalone). And two under-rated books: Crown of Ice & The Cadet of Tildor. :)

    • I haven’t heard of these last two – I’ll check them out, thanks for the recommendation! I read Cruel Beauty and quite liked it so I want to read Crimson Bound, too – they’re not a series or anything but they’re both fairytale retellings as far as I can tell.

      I highly recommend Uprooted, it’s great. I’ve been thinking about it a lot and this is always a sign that a book is worth reading for me – something that stays with you.

      • Crimson Bound didn’t click with me but writing and world-building was as good as in Cruel Beauty maybe even better. I just could not connect to characters. :(
        I agree, that’s definitely a sign. There are books I enjoyed when I read them but now I can’t even remember what exactly happened…

        • Ah, you’ve read Crimson Bound? A pity you didn’t like it that much :(

          I have terrible book amnesia – about romances, especially, they all seem to blur together after a while. So if I know I’m reviewing a romance, I tend to write the review as soon as possible so I don’t forget everything!

  • Aah, I want this. I got denied for an ARC though, sigh.

    • I think it’s well worth a read and I’d love to hear your take on it.

  • I have this on hold at the library, and cannot wait to get my hands on it! This sounds like such an amazing and well-written tale and I love the sound of the creepy, fairy-tale like atmosphere. Thanks for sharing this and for getting me excited about it! <3 Wonderful review!

    ~ Zoe @ Stories on Stage

    • Thanks, Zoe! :) I hope you’ll like it – I certainly did. And I like spreading the love for books I enjoyed so much! It’s been a while since I was this excited about an author who is new to me.

  • Cayt Landis

    Oh man…I just finished this book last night and it’s so good! I agree with just about everything you said in your review. And I also love that it’s a stand-alone. I love series and trilogies, but it’s nice to have a single book every once in awhile.

    • Yeah, I love series, it’s like returning to old friends again and again, but I think it takes a special kind of skill to make me care so much for the characters in a standalone. I wouldn’t mind reading more books set in the same world – or even hearing more about Agnieszka (and Sarkan, of course!), but I love that it’s such a well-rounded story.

  • UGH stahp with your five star review, I need this book badly enough as it is! I haven’t seen a single bad review for Uprooted yet…that is kind of crazy when you think about it. Hopefully my online order will arrive soon, and then I shan’t be heard from until I’ve finished the whole book!

    B&B retold with a grumpy dragon! Is there a better starting place? Girl power friendships just make the whole thing that much better. One of my best friends from childhood is named Kasia (it is a Polish name!), but I can’t say I’ve heard the name Agnieszka…although it does sound pretty Polish. Did the setting for Uprooted have a Polish vibe to it?

    YA fantasy standalone titles are completely escaping me! There aren’t too many out there. I’ve got The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black on my list though, and it actually sounds like it’s got some similar elements to Uprooted: dark fairy tale, creepy woods, character driven. Fingers crossed that it’s good (although probably not as epic as this one sounds)!

    • Hehe, I’m glad you’ve got it on your tbr and I can’t wait to read your review. I only hope your expectations won’t be TOO high – I like that I went into it without much hype so it made an impression on its own.

      A friend of a friend is named Agnieszka and she’s Polish, so yeah. I also read Novik is a first generation Polish immigrant so there you have it :)

      As for standalones, I remembered Stardust and Illusions of Fate, both of which I liked very much (Stardust was better, though). And there’s Vicious by V. E. Schwab though that’s more adult than YA.

      GO READ THIS and then we’ll talk about lovely grumpy Dragons and creepy woods. :)

  • Man I could kick myself for not requesting a copy of this one when I had the chance. The positive reviews keep rolling in and I NEED THIS BOOK IN MY LIFE!!! Gah! I LOVE that it’s one of your favorite books this year and I LOVE that you’re still thinking about it even after you finished reading it. That’s THE BEST feeling ever :D The characters and the world-building sound like perfection. I can’t wait to dive in^^ Lovely review^^ xx

    • Thanks, Micheline! :) I got lucky with this request on Netgalley because it was geared specifically at EU residents – that doesn’t happen that often so I was glad to snatch it up! I’m really glad I did, too.

      I’ve read several really great books so far this year, I hope my luck continues.

      It’s hard to find a book that’s character-driven but also has great world-building. This one has both! I hope you’ll enjoy it too – I’ll be looking for your review :)

  • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    Glad to see more love for this book :) I agree about the ending seeming a bit long, but everything else was so good, its hard to care.

    • Right? At the end, I wanted it to be longer – or rather I’d love to hear more about Agnieszka and Sarkan, or more stories set in the same world.
      I haven’t seen any bad reviews yet, though they’re sure to come later, as they always do. I’m really looking forward to anything Novik will produce! :)

  • Benish

    Yaaay yaaay so happy to hear that you loved it as well<3 I thought this was a a great complex fantasy novel, I'm not sure if I understood the ending correctly, but it was a great story as well. I loved everything about this novel, especially the chaacterization. Wonderful review as always <3 Benish | Feminist Reflections

    • Thanks! :)

      Um, which part of the ending? The part where Sarkan DOESN’T admit he’s madly in love with Agnieszka but is his adorable grumpy self instead? ;) I guess you mean the Wood-related ending, though? I thought it was a bit confusing, too, but not too much – I still loved it.

      Yes, the characters here were simply amazing! It’s rare to see such well-rounded people.

  • Benish

    Yaaay yaaay so happy to hear that you loved it as well<3 I thought this was a a great complex fantasy novel, I'm not sure if I understood the ending correctly, but it was a great story as well. I loved everything about this novel, especially the chaacterization. Wonderful review as always <3 Benish | Feminist Reflections

  • Maraia

    I just finished Uprooted last night! I think I need to re-read the last few chapters, though, because I was more asleep than awake. (My allergies are horrible up at our cabin in the woods, so it was a struggle to keep my eyes open, and I could barely read all weekend.)

    Anyway, I really liked Uprooted, but I think I would have appreciated it more if I had been able to focus. I do think it felt like a very long book, even though the page count isn’t extreme for a fantasy.

    I love Agnieszka’s character. THIS is what a strong female character looks like. I usually don’t like such long sex scenes in books, but this one actually made me happy, because she was the one taking charge. How often does that happen?! The romance managed not to bother me, which isn’t usually the case with captor-turned-lover romances. I never felt that the Dragon really had much real control over Agnieszka. I’m glad I read Uprooted so soon after ACOTAR, because I think it made me appreciate and notice how awesome and strong Agnieszka is even more. It’s pretty amazing how differently the authors used the Beauty and the Beast story.

    I also wondered about romantic feelings between Agnieska and Kasia, haha.

    I know most bloggers are calling this a YA fantasy, but my library has it labeled as an adult book, and I have to say I agree. It doesn’t read like YA at all (as in, it actually has a long, detailed plot that doesn’t revolve around a romance or take place in the span of three days), and I also think the subject material (especially the sex scene) bumps it into the adult category. That’s not to say teens SHOULDN’T be reading it, I just don’t think I would call it a YA novel.

    One of my biggest (and only) complaints about the book is the lack of a map. I could have really used one!

    • Eeee! I’m SO glad you loved this one. Yep, it’s a bit long (I felt like the time at the court could have been shorter?) and I could definitely use a map, you’re right! But otherwise it’s pretty awesome.

      I get what you’re saying with the target audience issue. I often feel like YA novels are written for a dual audience anyway nowadays (as are most of children’s books, it’s adults who buy must of the books in any case). As you said – teens would probably enjoy it but it’s a serious read.

      YES I loved how strong Angnieszka was. I’ll probably be citing her as an example of a wonderfully HUMAN (powerful but flawed) heroine for a long time :) And yes, captor-turned-lover romance can be weird (hello, ACOTAR! I think you mentioned this in your comment, right?) but I felt like Agnieszka could leave – and she did, when she went to help her village.

      All in all, it’s pretty damn perfect :)

      • Maraia

        Have you read anything else by Naomi Novik? I’m curious about her fantasy series, although I’m afraid it’ll just be so long, and I have a million other books to read right now. Still, if her characters are anything like the ones in Uprooted, the books are probably worth reading!

        • From what I heard from people who’ve read the Temeraire series, it’s great, especially book 1, but most of them burned out by book 5 or so. It seems like a huge undertaking so I might wait a bit and read her NEXT book instead when it comes out (I hope she’s got something in the works, I need more of her writing!).

          • Maraia

            Ooh, good to know. :)

  • Thea Wilson

    Awesome review….. I have this in my review pile at the moment and am gagging to get to it as I love Naomi Novak’s work. You review has just made me want to read it even more so I might have to bump it up the list a little bit, thanks xx

    Thea @ Gizzimomo’s Book Shelf

    • Thanks, Thea! :) I can’t recommend this one enough though I’m always wary of over-hyping books – I don’t like reading too-popular books :) I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!

  • Did your copy arrive? :) I also LOVED this book. The Wood was terrifying. It’s great that it’s a stand-alone. This story is good on it’s own and I don’t think a sequel would benefit the beauty.

    • YES, my copy arrived and it’s GORGEOUS! I really like lending my books to my friends and family because I like spreading the love but I’m seriously considering keeping this copy just for myself because it’s so pretty :)

      Yep, I’ve been searching for more stand-alones, I love that the story is finished! I mean, I like reading series and all but I’m hopeless with finishing them and it’s such a time-consuming undertaking sometimes, especially if there are more than 3 books in the series…

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