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Book review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Book review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Website Culture Editor, Julia Mitchell, reviews Naomi Novik’s latest novel, Uprooted. Read on to find out whether it’s worth picking up a copy for yourself this summer.

Angnieszka lives in a quiet valley village in the kingdom of Polnya, but for as long as anyone can remember, the valley has faced a serious threat. Overlooked by the terrible corrupted wood, the valley’s inhabitants rely on one wizard, the Dragon, to keep it at bay. As payment for his service, once every ten years the Dragon chooses a young woman from the valley villages to live with him in his tower. It’s always been assumed that Agnieszka’s talented and beautiful best friend, Kasia, would be the next girl to be chosen by the Dragon. But when the day arrives, it turns out that Agnieszka has a very different future in store.

Best known as the author of the acclaimed Temeraire series, Uprooted is Naomi Novik’s latest novel, and is easily one of the best fantasy books I’ve read in the past few years.

Agnieszka (which the acknowledgements explain is pronounced as ag-NYESH-kah) is the book’s protagonist, and begins the story in Kasia’s shadow, portrayed simply as a happy, clumsy village girl with a strong friendship. As the story develops and Agnieszka becomes acquainted with the valley’s resident wizard, the Dragon, she quickly begins to show just how brave and intelligent she really is; these are traits that only grow as the book progresses, and she develops her powers…

Although I really liked Agnieszka, in this book it wasn’t the characterisation that appealed to me most; it was the author’s fantastic world building. Novik has been successful in creating a believable fantasy world, which is fantastically absorbing, and felt like I’d been dropped straight into a fairytale. The setting has a medieval feel to it, and for me there’s something really fun about reading of peasants bustling around quaint towns and villages, and learning about their daily lives in a time when a horse and cart was the fastest mode of transport. Add a king, a handful of royal children and a smattering of wizards and witches, and I was well and truly hooked. While this might sound all picturesque, this book definitely has a dark side to it as well – so be prepared for that.

I found another of the book’s strengths in its action scenes, which are often brutal and bloody, and fought by a combination of sword wielding foot soldiers and magic throwing sorcerers. They are engaging, as any decent action scene should be, and require a stomach that can stand multiple heads rolling across the battlefield at once. My all time favourite weapon had to be the magical cannon balls that, once fired, embedded themselves into their targets and exploded, unleashing a spell from inside.

The problem with writing about magic is that it can be so easy for it to be too over the top in a way that destroys the book’s believability. Novik has done a great job in avoiding this. Although her magic is imaginative and often incredibly powerful, it also has its own boundaries and limits. There are things it can’t do. The most valuable potions can’t be brewed in a day, and the use of magic takes its toll on the user. This is something that I appreciated whilst reading.

Although I’ve always enjoyed a good fantasy story, you definitely don’t have to be a die-hard lover of the genre to enjoy this book. If you think you can stomach the bloody battle scenes then I definitely recommend that you pick up it up for yourself, and discover the fairytale world that Novik has created.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik, £16.99, Pan Macmillan.

This book is out now. For more information, view its Goodreads page here.

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