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Book review: ‘Uprooted,’ Naomi Novik

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Evil thoughts, words, and actions permeate every corner of the globe. Evil spreads, facilitated by revenge, greed, love, and any other vehicle that you can think of, leaving ruin in its wake. In Naomi Novik’s “Uprooted,” the presence of evil becomes tangible in the Wood, a massive forest that can turn visitors who merely breathe the air into malignant horrors, full of hatred.

“Uprooted” focuses on Agnieszka, a teenager who has lived her entire life in a village near the Wood. Taking place in a medieval setting with names and culture borrowed from eastern Europe, Agnieszka’s village is protected from the Wood by its lord and wizard, the Dragon. Every 10 years, the immortal Dragon claims a new girl from one of the local villages, replacing the departing previous one. Agnieszka is chosen for this undesirable duty.

At this point in the story, the fact Agnieszka begins to learn magic from the Dragon is entirely predictable. However, once Agnieszka’s natural magical prowess has been established, the book quickly abandons all expectations. While the student-teacher relationship remains throughout the novel, the story quickly transforms into a story of adventure, violent deaths, court intrigue, and an overarching conflict of man versus nature meshed with several bloody conflicts between men. The unexpected trajectory of the book is satisfying, and helps keep the reader engaged throughout.

Novik has a highly descriptive writing style. The fight scenes are bloody and the Wood is terrifying. Magic receives copious description and imagery, with Agnieszka and the Dragon’s magic being described as a song, a river, and building a sand castle, among other visuals. This at times could prove a little confusing, especially when the magic conjures up images of characters in different locations in time and space. However, the physical reality of magic meshes well with the physical presence of evil and corruption in the Wood, at times providing the light to the Wood’s darkness.

Like many fantasy stories, “Uprooted” follows a classic hero’s journey plotline. This is a comfortable jacket for the book to wear. Agnieszka’s inherent clumsiness and simple wants make her a relatable character, but it still makes her magical prowess surprising. While it was explained that she had a natural affinity for magic from a young age, another talent fantasy protagonists often share, the frequent times she stumbles into the solution for an impossible problem would strain belief anywhere outside a fantasy novel like this one.

The romantic relationship that develops between two characters is the biggest element that felt out of place. There is essentially no courtship phase, only a physical attraction and “magical connection.”

“Uprooted” takes a few chapters to get going, but once Agnieszka learns a few spells and the nobility of the land become involved, the book speeds up and never slows until the end. The last chapter gives a thorough status report on all of the surviving characters, not leaving any stone unturned and bringing the book to a satisfying conclusion. The book’s take on the lengths people go to enact revenge or find a lost love is powerful. While “Uprooted” will forever make a reader think twice about blindly entering a forest, it succeeds in developing a cast of engaging characters encountering a fantastical horror.

The verdict: This story of revenge, love, and magic will plant a seed of curiosity that will grow into a great appreciation for Novik’s work.

 

Reach writer Chris Kaperak at arts@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @ChrisKaperak

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