As a huge, huge fan of the Temeraire series, I am so excited to share my review for Naomi Novik's new book, Uprooted (releases today). 5 ecstatic stars!
Temeraire is a re-imagining of the Napoleonaic wars if dragons were used in combat. Like a mix of Master and Commander and How to Train Your Dragon. Now, there's only an occasional reference to dragons in Uprooted, and it was a lot scarier than anything I've read in the Temeraire series, but oh my goodness I loved this book! It had the classic feel of my favorites: it had a feel of Lord of the Rings in it, especially the forest parts (Old Man Willow!); it had the awkward, strong girl hero like in The Blue Sword; it had the darkness and danger and complicated magic of Sabriel in it; and it's got an interesting romance and a wonderful story of the friendship of two girls, Neishka and Kasia. And that ending, oh, it had a surprising, beautiful, soul-wrenching quality to it that reminded me of the climax of A Wrinkle in Time.
The main character Neishka is so unique I can't think of another heroine to compare her too. I loved that she was at one point mistaken for a young (and more trustworthy) Baba Yaga; she had that orneriness about her. (Speaking of Baba Yaga, this book had the wonderful feel of Eastern Europe and Russia about its edges and in its names). Neishka also reminded me of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, or Anne of Green Gables always getting into one of her scrapes, if these girls had been a little older and allowed to run more frequently barefooted through the woods and track mud back into the house.
Which brings me to the Wood, and what an enigma it was. It was evil, oh so very evil, and I really struggled with that because, you know, Ents!! And even Huorns (scary things, but they used their dreadful power to destroy evil). This Wood was like that scene of Snow White running through the forest with the trees snagging her dress and trying to grab her that terrified me endlessly when I was 5 years old. This Wood made you feel five years old again, surrounded by trees with horrible eyes staring out of them. This was much worse than the Old Willow trying to swallow up Merry and Pippin. This was so WRONG. But there's a reason for the wrongness that finally makes sense in the end.
Then there is this interesting tangle of a - romance? - not quite the right word! about it too. I expect a lot of people to go up in arms about 17 year old Neishka taking advantage of 150 year old Sarkan; I expect even more outrage over the horrible way he mocked and name-called our heroine, but I've thought about it carefully and I think the author took care to explain the complicated creature that was the Dragon (Sarkan). He was like an army drill sergeant in charge of shaping a spindly raw recruit into a fighting machine, only to discover she was his equal, but in an entirely unexpected way. It was when they discovered that their magic was so different but complimentary that I truly fell in love with this story. And Sarkan's crankiness is so very adorable (in a sort of Gandalf way), because along with it we'd get these tantalizing hints that under all the crusty salt he was golden:
I darted a quick glance at him. He was staring down at the dough trying to keep his scowl, and flushed at the same time with the high transcendent light that he brought to his elaborate workings: delighted and also annoyed, trying not to be.
Oh another thing I loved about Sarkan are all the spells he planted in his tower. Neishka is creeping down one of this hallways when this really cool, scary thing happens (see my longer Goodreads review if you want hint of it).
And oh gosh there is so much more that I love about this story. There is a wizard's library, the Charovnikov, and Sarkan has a library too in his tower. Neishka isn't like Belle in the Beast's library, though. She's too unique. She goes after a book about Summoning the Truth, and how she and the Dragon summoned Truth in this story gave me happy chills.
I had the feeling the Summoning wasn't really meant to be cast alone: as if truth didn't mean anything without someone to share it with; you could shout truth into the air forever, and spend your life doing it, if someone didn't come and listen.
This was just one of the themes running through this book like the river Spindle running through the valley and the Wood. Of all magic spells, Truth is the strongest but how many people actually want truth? How many of us seek illusion instead? And how hard it is to face Truth in another person, how they REALLY see you? What Neishka and Kasia had to face in each other?
Note: this is not a young adult book, even though Neishka is 17 years old. There are two extremely violent battle scenes and two sex scenes.
I received a digital copy of Uprooted for my honest review. I was not paid or in any way compensated for raving about it. I truly, honestly, deeply enjoyed this book. I plan to buy myself a copy to always keep, but thank you to Del Rey and Net Galley for giving me a sneak peek.