Book Review: “Uprooted” by Naomi Novik

Cover of "Uprooted" by Naomi Novik. Agnieszka is featured in the main, large panel in the upper middle of the cover, holding a yellow rose. An alchemical beaker, a bird, a blonde woman, a three-headed monster, books, and a sword, and the up-close face of a man are shown around her in smaller panels.

I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m looking at “Uprooted” by Naomi Novik! Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:

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.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.”

Worldbuilding development: 3 out of 5

I think the worldbuilding concepts were slow to establish and understand until about halfway through the book. Some of the weaker concepts come from the concept of the ‘Dragon’ himself however. From the summary, it makes it sound like the Dragon is a horrible master (which is true in a way, as proven by at least his initial treatment of Agnieszka) who might abuse the girls he kidnaps as servants. Within the actual book, however, it’s more like one girl gets taken every ten years (which sucks, admittedly, given that they rarely get the chance to go back and see their families during that time if ever until the end of the ten-year period), they get incredibly well-educated, and end up leaving with a lot of resources and making a name for themselves in the world in the end (and though it’s implied that these women get raped by the Dragon, it’s actually not the case at all and it’s purely a rumor for frightening purposes). Because of this, I feel that the summary of this book was rather misleading in discussing the supposed frightening aspect of the Dragon.

I also didn’t like how most of the nobility-related worldbuilding got smashed into the second half of the book, which slowed down the plot development a lot. I’ll elaborate on that in the next section.

Plot development: 2 out of 5

The plot pacing is overall fine in the first half. Could be a little faster during some scenes, but otherwise fine. However, it starts to lag a lot in the second half, just before the big final battle against the Wood (which is the antagonist to virtually everyone in the story). I think it was meant to set up all the politics of the worldbuilding, but because it took so much time establishing that part of the worldbuilding and such, it also slowed down the plot pacing a lot and made it drag on longer than it should.

Individual character development: 2 out of 5

While I’m still discussing the Dragon, he comes across almost seventy-five to ninety percent of the time as incredibly grumpy. Either that, or he’s likely arguing with nobles such as Prince Marek and trying to make sure things are in order. There isn’t a lot of charisma to him, and there doesn’t have to be necessarily, but his development overall was just rather flat and disappointing.

As for Agnieska, I could see some development of her going from seeing herself as a plain person with little talent (especially when comparing herself to Kasia) to someone with much more confidence in herself and her abilities (more thanks to herself learning all that magic and even achieving it better than the Dragon (best demonstrated when she’s healing Kasia) as opposed to thanks to the Dragon’s supposed teaching her) by the time she faces the nobility in the second half. However, she didn’t have much other development in herself, other than her romantic interest in the Dragon (and I will elaborate soon about how that romance should not have happened).

Because there was a clear focus on Agnieska and the Dragon, other characters such as Marek and Kasia don’t get a lot of spotlight or are simply kind of there as plot devices (especially in the case of Marek’s mother for instance). However, I did enjoy reading Kasia the most. She was willing to be taken by the Dragon in the first place and brave being under his rule for ten years, and she expressed a lot of care for Agnieska and her fellow villagers as well. Honestly, I would be interested in seeing a sidestory about her thoughts and feelings during the events of Uprooted, because she’s actually more interesting to me than Agnieska and the Dragon combined to read. However, any attempt to make Marek redeemable through his bond with his mother went out the window, by initially presenting him attempting to rape Agnieszka in the book, as well as his more power-hungry tendencies in the second half of the book. They should have just let him stay unredeemable to the end.

The romance: 1 out of 5

I think the romance build-up between the Dragon and Agnieszka was wasted, and that a romance between should not have happened in this book. I can see that the author was attempting a hate-to-love type of romance, which can work, but the chemistry between our main two protagonists just fell flat and I cared nothing for their feelings for each other. The relationship-building just felt overly rushed for a romance, and would be more suited for a close friendship instead. It definitely didn’t help that the Dragon was just super-rude to Agnieszka a lot of the time, even during the time they started romancing each other as well, to the point that the Dragon never apologizes for his rude behavior towards her and keeps on verbally abusing her (thus turning this relationship abusive, making me as a reader cringe as Agnieszka falls for him anyway, and giving me a second reason as of why this romance should not have happened at all).

Kasia and Agnieszka’s friendship? 4 out of 5!!!!

Kasia and Agnieszka’s friendship was, on the other hand, a missed opportunity to turn into romance instead. Yes, Agnieszka has her initial seemingly-jealous issues over Kasia’s beauty and own abilities while comparing herself to Kasia, but deep down she does demonstrate a lot of care for Kasia and her wellbeing, trying to rescue her from the Wood and always having her in mind later in the book when they get involved in a court-trial-esque situation that risks Kasia getting killed for reasons I probably shouldn’t spoil. Kasia, in turn, expresses a lot of concern and care for Agnieszka’s wellbeing, knowing well that Agnieszka definitely didn’t expect to be the one to be taken by the Dragon instead of Kasia (who everyone in the village virtually expected to be taken next, Agnieszka included). There were some very good moments between the two in this book and part of me would have seriously shipped it if not for the knowledge that Agnieszka ends up with the Dragon at the end. I wish the book centered more on their friendship as opposed to the romance, especially later on in the book. It would have made the overall story more enjoyable to read.

Overall, I’m rating this book 2.5 out of 5 stars! Though it also has some faults in the worldbuilding, romance, and misleading summary, I do think some of the worldbuilding was interesting to read and the friendship was the strongest part.

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