Sunday, February 28, 2016

Staff Pick: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik’s Uprooted is a fantasy novel based on Polish folklore taken from the author’s own ancestry. In the book, a young woman named Agnieszka and her family live in a small rural village that is generally quiet…except that occasionally its inhabitants disappear or suddenly go insane. The reason is that the creeping Wood that borders their village will literally swallow up livestock, people, or even entire towns and leave them “corrupted,” a horrifying sickness for which the only cure is death.

This menacing Wood is only kept at bay by an enigmatic magician named “the Dragon,” who in return picks an eligible girl from the town to be his servant, locked away in his tower for a decade. At this year’s “choosing,” although every indication points to her best friend, Kasia, being chosen, Agnieszka is stunned when she is picked instead.

This begins Agnieszka’s journey of adjusting to her new role in society and discovering more about the world around her, like the intricacies of magic and secrets about her village and herself.

I loved how the author skillfully plotted the story, which enthralled me with its loveable characters, details, and cleverness. Even though the kingdom and its lands are complex, the author doesn’t inundate readers with too many characters, places, and complicated names at once. Instead, we are introduced to this fantasy world and its inhabitants carefully, getting to slowly see the intricacies in each one. And yet the story remains fast-paced but emotionally satisfying.

Uprooted has been deservedly nominated for both the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award, which recognize excellent writing in science fiction and fantasy, and I am excited to see which books will take home the awards this year!

For similar reads, try these:

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Both this and Uprooted have the trappings of traditional fairy tales but add richness and depth to the characters and worlds. The two novels involve a pragmatic young woman (Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle and Agnieszka from Uprooted) moving into a castle with a vain and grumpy wizard (Howl and the Dragon). The main characters then slowly begin to realize that there is more to everything than meets the eye, including the castle, the magician, the nature of magic, and even themselves. They even both have to face a wicked witch who attempts to take over their worlds. It’s interesting to discover each detail of the fantasy universes through their experiences.

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

This is another book by author Naomi Novik, and I enjoyed it just as much as Uprooted. His Majesty’s Dragon is the first book of the Temeraire series, an alternate history set in the early 1800s in which the British are fighting Napoleon…via exciting aerial combat on specially trained dragons! Will Laurence is a stiff and proper navy man, captain of his ship, when they engage in battle with the French and capture a precious dragon egg. When it hatches onboard, Laurence names the dragon Temeraire, and they form a special lifelong bond (the dragon talks!).

Like with Uprooted, I found that this book just flew by: the world-building is rich and the action scenes are thrilling, but it’s really the three-dimensional characters that make the world come alive. Both the novels have a little romance, but they focus more deeply on the bonds of friendship, community, and duty. This is the first book in the ten-part Temeraire series (the final book, League of Dragons, was just released), and I am so excited to read the next one!

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