Books Read in 2016: ‘Uprooted’ by Naomi Novik, Part 2 #amreading
Book Summary from Goodreads:
“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.
You can read the full-ranting Part 1 here.
[Spoilers follow—read at your own risk!]
Here’s a quick recap of the issues I had with this book at the 40% mark:
1. It’s trying to be “adult” fantasy, but it’s YA.
2. Agnieszka spends (Kindle) page after (Kindle) page of the beginning of the book telling us how much she’s NOT a special snowflake. Just like every other heroine of every other YA fantasy or dystopian novel.
3. Apparently none of these girls has ever actually told (or shown) anyone exactly why she was taken by the Dragon or what she did/learned while she was with him.
4. Why do they keep having children during the 10th year, when they know the Dragon is going to take one away?
5. The Dragon says he is under a mandate from the king to train people who have magic. But neither the Dragon nor the government told the citizens this is what is going on. WHY???
6. The Dragon is only looking for/taking a girl to train. What about the boys? Are boys no longer being born with magic?
7. Why only every ten years? Does magic skip half-generations? Are witches/wizards born only every ten years? And is only one born exactly every ten years?
8. An almost-rape scene, a squicky (he-touched-her-between-her-legs) kiss scene, and a very uncomfortable sex scene do not make this an “adult” novel. It makes it a really confused YA novel. And speaking of the Dragon . . .
9. The Dragon/Sarkan is THE WORST. This is no Buffy and Angel. It’s not even Buffy and Spike. This comes much closer to Sansa-and-Joffrey-level awful. (Not quite—Dragon isn’t quite as bad as Joffrey, but that’s the best comparison I can come up with right now.)
10. Of course, Agnieszka has special magic.
11. The Wood sets the trap that draws the Dragon away from the tower and Agnieszka’s village signals for help. She barely knows any spells and none of them *should* actually be useful for the epic scope of the catastrophe she’s facing. But of course, because she’s a Chosen One, even when she’s doing things wrong, they end up working out just fine. And then, when Kasia is taken by the Wood, Agnieszka is so special that she can do something that neither the Dragon nor any other known (trained, experienced) wizard has ever been able to do.
12. Which leads up to the first turning point of the novel, where I’ve stopped reading for several days because I’ve read this before. Not this particular book—but so many other “this is the mostest specialest girl in the world even though she doesn’t realize it” young adult novels that I know how the rest of the book will go.
Here’s my review now that I’ve finished reading:
Now that I’ve finished reading the entire book, I can’t say that I will recant any of these sentiments/observations—this is a true representation of how I felt about the first 40% of the book. I will admit, though, that finishing it allowed some of the vehemence of a few of these to moderate, somewhat.
I was very happy that Sarkan didn’t have much of a presence in the last half of the book. When they went into the Wood to rescue the queen, I was annoyed that Agnieszka was, of course, the one who pretty much saved the day (though I was really happy to see Lady Brienne of Tarth—I mean Kasia 😉 being a badass with a sword).
Once they split up and Agnieszka/Kasia go to court and Sarkan stays to fight the Wood, I actually skipped a couple of chapters—I would read the first paragraph or so, then click forward to the end of the chapter and read the last few lines. And if it didn’t make me want to go back and read the chapter to see what had happened or what I’d missed, I just moved on. And I think that’s the only thing that helped me get through the book. And other than some (minor) character introductions, I really don’t feel like I missed anything. Novik has a penchant for over-describing and over-explaining minor things (like unimportant characters and settings) while glossing over important things (like worldbuilding and development of relationships between characters). For example, did we really need a full paragraph of physical description of the soldier who opens the barn door when they go to save Jerzy, when that soldier immediately goes away and never does anything else in the book except disappear in the Wood a few pages later?
I know that there are those who “swoon” over what they call the “romance” in this book. It was even nominated in a couple of categories in the All About Romance “best of 2015” survey. Maybe it’s because I’m so entrenched in the romance genre, as a lifelong reader and writer of it, that I just couldn’t see it here. As mentioned, the first kiss between the two of them took me by surprise, because up until that point in the story, there was no indication that there was any romantic—or even physical or emotional—attraction between the two of them. At least not from Agnieszka’s POV, which is all we get. Then the scene in which she goes to his bedroom and basically forces him to have sex with her . . . yuck! Again, no build up, no development, no romantic or sexual tension between them to lead me as a reader to believe that this was a true romantic connection between them. It seemed more like the typical YA trope of the young woman protagonist must have a romantic interest who must be a man.
Frankly, I thought there was a lot more of a true romantic-intellectual-emotional relationship between Agnieszka and Kasia—and that would have made for a much more interesting book, too!
I had to read the “about the author” piece in the back of the book after I finished reading to see if English was her second language—or if it had been written in Polish and translated into English. I was so confused over a lot of the wording choices, syntax, and grammar in the book. (For example, the rain “gouted” at one point. Not a word. And then she uses this as a verb again a page or two later.) The metaphors and similes were mixed (shaken and stirred at times) to the point that they pulled me out of the story while I tried to figure out what they meant. And her sentence structures were bizarre at times, requiring rereading to glean meaning.
Now, I will say that I enjoyed the last 15-20% of the book much more than the middle portion of it. Even after the excitement of the assassinations and Agnieszka and Kasia’s escape with the children, I ended up skimming most of their journey to the tower (went on way too long—I never had a doubt they’d arrive) and the battle between the Baron’s men and Marek’s. Again, it just went on too long.
My interest really didn’t pick up again until Agnieszka and Sarkan went back to the Wood to confront the Wood Queen. THAT was a great bit of character development for the antagonist and I like the way that it was resolved. I enjoyed the “epilogue” feel of Agnieszka now living in the Wood and slowly restoring it, leaching the poison out, putting to “rest” all of the souls it had taken over the years. And attending the festival with her family would have been a great ending, especially after meeting the little girl with her cow and basically promising to train her when she was old enough. That, to me, would have been the perfect way to end it.
I thought it was a big mistake to bring Sarkan back, and it weakened Agnieszka’s emotional journey for me. She was strong enough to stand on her own and was making her own life—a life that was *rooted* in the Wood and in her village and in her family. She’d already made the point that Sarkan not only wasn’t rooted there, he didn’t want roots. He’d done everything he could to keep from putting down roots. Yet here he was, demanding her attention. How long would it have been until he demanded she leave the wood/her village/her family to go back into isolation with him and do things the way he wanted to do them? After all, that’s all we see him do throughout the rest of the book.
But this is a problem I have with a lot of the romance novels that use the Alpha-Male/Bad Boy-must-be-tamed/reformed trope. People are capable of change, yes, but when a character trait is that firmly entrenched (especially since he’s been like this for more than 100 years), it’s very unlikely that they’re ever going to change their ways.
All in all, this was a 2.75-star read for me. Will I ever re-read it? No. If it does get made into a movie, will I go see it? Sure—as far as movies go, this one hits most of the right beats for me.
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