Stand-alone fantasy novels seem to be rare finds. It seems like everything has a sequel or a saga attached to it nowadays. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, it does feel nice to occasionally be able to read a book without needing a long-term commitment; a book that gives you everything you can obtain from multi-volume serials in one bound collection of 400-600 pages. Luckily for me, I discovered a novel such as this: a single book that tells a story of sword-and-sorcery without the hassle of a long-term investment. (I sound like one of those cellular phone commercials right now, oops.)
Uprooted by Naomi Novik is a fantasy, sword-and-sorcery book that revolves around a young woman named Agnieska. She resides in a small village that isn’t too far from a dark and mysterious forest known simply as The Wood. The Wood is a very treacherous place, filled with malevolent magical creatures, dripping in sinister intentions. The Wood seeks to corrupt everything in its path as it grows and expands. The only person keeping these monsters at bay consists of a wizard who is known simply as Dragon. He protects the village and the nation. In exchange, every ten years he comes into the village, leaving his looming tower, and takes one girl from the village with no questions asked and no arguments. Whatever happens to these ladies, whatever he does to them, is utterly unknown. This time he chooses Agnieska and she has no choice but to go with him.
Initially, I picked up Uprooted and felt a bit intimidated. It was only 450-pages, but the font within these pages were far smaller than normal for a book of its size. Yet, when I sat down and begin reading it, I was instantly absorbed by Agnieska’s character. The book is told from her perspective. So we get to experience her internal strife and insecurities, her salty intellect, and instinct to question things she doesn’t agree with without hesitation. I could tell that Agnieska was going to be a very strong character, a character I would grow to adore quite a lot.
She isn’t afraid to do what she must to protect herself and the people that she loves, even if it’s severely tabooed or abnormal. I strongly believe that is one of the things that makes her such a compelling person. While it is a rather straight-forward hero quality, the fact that we see this from a woman, in an environment where women are no equals of men, was refreshing to read about. She’s not blind or ignorant of what it means for her to go against the grind. There are consequences, rather severe ones, but Agnieska doesn’t compromise her ethics and morals, or the love she has for her people. There is never an instance where those specific compromises are feasible within her mind. It created an intimate bond between me and her character as I started to root for her rather diligently.
As Agnieska meets other characters, it becomes apparent that her persona is one of a handful that are examined in the novel. Each character has a personality to match a distinct reaction that humans have during times of severe crises and high-level stress. Emotionally, Agnieska is severely affected, however. The woman doesn’t allow it to stop her from being vigilant and level-headed, well, as much as she can be. These character perusals work advantageously with building dimension to the world of Uprooted.
The dark magic that resides in The Wood have a severe psychological impact on the people, whether they are rich or poor, noble or peasant. The all-encompassing fear created by the mere mention of the corruption that stems from folks being exposed to The Wood is a very real and important aspect of the story. When you have characters that react in ways that is considerably different from one another, it creates a huge sense of chaos and tension. This worked marvellously in building anxiety and suspense, which in turn held me grasping at the pages to discover what would occur next. It a fantasy novel that works splendidly as a work of escapism.
The magic in Uprooted itself was meticulously crafted and truly complemented the sword-and-sorcery facets. I found it to be very charming, even the treacherously malignant portions. The sinister anxiety that I felt wrapped around my heart filled with me anticipation and curiosity. I wanted to learn everything I could about the magic. I wanted to know how it worked and what created it. The magic is something that people have to work very hard at to master. While it comes naturally to one or two, it still requires sharpening with practice being the whetstone. In most fantasies, that is a trope that I immediately fall for: magic that is acquired through back-breaking training. This makes you believe that if you tried hard enough, you could wield magic here in the real-world as well.
Magic also has a strong political position in the novel. The political conflicts that arise were started for the most human-like reasons you could think of. Naturally, these sorts of reasons always leads down a nasty road of vengeance. These tensions that are stirred up due to very personal emotions, places the main kingdom in an awkward predicament. As evil magic begins to moves forward with courageous attacks, we have leaders who argue over what they should do. One would expect them to put their people first, but it’s a constant struggle as the chance to satisfy personal agendas grows bigger and more appetising. To be honest, I felt the political situations to be hella fucking allegorical to the political upheaval happening in our world right now. It’s supremely difficult not to make comparisons. For me, that made the book even more fantastic because it added a whole new depth of realism to the story.
If there’s anything that I disliked about Uprooted, I’d have to say it was the pacing. It is a slow read. It’s a slow burn in regards to romance, which I appreciated. The romance is natural and flows instinctively based on characters interactions. It was ordinary and is an element that a lot of folks can relate to. But everything else was a tad bit too sluggish. If it had some more speed, the novel would have been a damn near perfect fantasy read. The gradual revelation of secrets and other plot details also made the narrative drag terribly in specific areas used to get all of the pieces into position for the next big event. I always find it challenging to retain my focus in such cases.
Overall, now that I have prattled for over 1,000 words, I highly recommend Uprooted to all fans of the adult fantasy genre, who are in the mood for good storytelling that won’t tie you down to a large-scale series. Yes, it can be slow, but everything else within the 400-500 pages makes it damn worth it.
4.25 branches outta 5!