Uprooted -- Naomi Novik
-- Retelling based on Beauty and the Beast
First of all, Uprooted is an amazing read and I really, really loved it!
Sometimes there are books that are just so wonderful that you are willing to overlook any and all instances of questionable material, whether it be short tangents that turned out monotonous and flat, or even slight logical quirks that take a bit of convincing to agree with (in spite of the fantasy basis of the book). Uprooted is beautifully written with a vast and colorful world built on continuous revelations of the way the backhistory pans out, the way the politics connect, and the way the magic develops.
If I hadn’t known already that Uprooted has its roots in the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, I’m not sure if I would have guessed it. Aside from the beginning wherein a young girl is taken to the Dragon’s castle to be locked away as some sort of tribute/payment, the rest of the story in Uprooted could have easily been one of its own originality.
The corrupted Wood is a place of evil that is feared throughout the land, bordering the valley and dividing two kingdoms. Agnieska calls the valley her home--a place where friends and family have lived for generations. But in order to maintain their livelihood, the villages are reliant on the cold and indifferent wizard known as Dragon living in a large, dark tower--he lords over them, but he also protects them from the corrupt malevolence of the Wood.
Every ten years, however, he takes a young woman from the villages to live with him in his dark castle--to keep him company, to serve him as is necessary. And while the entire village knows that Kasia will be the one taken this time, they are thrown when Dragon takes Agnieska instead--clumsy, normal, and incompetent Agnieska instead of witty, pretty, and special Kasia.
Of course, there is much more to the wizard Dragon than his people have ever realized. Soon, Agnieska quickly learns the reason she is chosen as well as how deeply rooted the corruption of the Wood has become; and what she must do to help her villagers and the kingdom with Dragon as her strongest ally and mentor.
Okay, yea. My own little sorry excuse for a summary was a little clunky. I didn’t want to give away too much, but I also wanted to make sure I gave a good enough teasing synopsis… for reasons. But the fact is, a lot of story and a lot of twists and a lot of new developments kept springing up every few chapters. It was a small-scale epic adventure with magic, battles, wizards, and politics all squeezed together into a short young adult book with a fairy tale retelling as it’s jumping board.
And while it all sounds a little overwhelming, the progression of the entire story was paced smoothly with only a few breaks wherein I might have tuned out due to a bit of monotony, but wherein I jumped right back in because things readily picked back up into exciting territory. And the little story anecdotes and tangents and strung out moments at least tie themselves together properly by the time each twist occurs so that in the end, the conclusion rounds out wonderfully.
I can’t help talking about how much I love Agnieska. I love Agnieska’s strong development--of her character, of her state of mind, as well as with her magic and her power. Even though there were some times where I got a little frustrated with her for being wishy-washy or for not being quick enough to defuse bad situations or for allowing people to walk all over her and push her around, she always redeems herself by doing something admirable or ignorantly brilliant.
In the end, she comes out stronger, wiser, and tougher, despite the slight feeling I have that her development seemed to come more of story progression necessity than really from character building. One moment she’s still a clumsy wizard’s apprentice, the next she’s a wise and powerful witch out to save the world from the corrupted Woods using her strangely performed magic skills deemed unorthodox by other powerful wizards. But as I’d stated in a previous post, I love how naturally her magic comes to her with no sense of tangible logic aside from her “just knowing” how to feel her way around it.
A lot of times I’m not too thrilled with the “just knowing” type of world logic and would rather have a more Dragon approach to how things work--logic is every scientist’s best friend… But for some reason, in Agnieska’s case, this kind of non-rational, non-tangible type of magic performing logic of just feeling how the magic is supposed to work… well, it just kind of worked out really well and I accept it.
I love Agnieska’s relationship with Dragon (also known as Sarkan) and how she just sets his anger boiling without really meaning to do so, but always manages to force his begrudging acceptance of her own logic of her magic. I love how they naturally build a partnership when using their magic together, even if they both use entirely different styles to perform their spells.
I don’t love so much that the romance was a little less than meaty despite the sexy-times and the “Deep down we both love each other” vibe I started getting even with little action to develop said romance. But I’m not too bothered by that--this book was about so much more than the romance, after all.
I love Agnieska’s relationship with Kasia--a sweet, caring, honest friendship that is so simple that it’s the best kind to grace the pages of many a YA I’ve read in recent times. There is no angst, there is no manipulation. There are just two girls who love each other and are readily honest with and trust each other, and who are willing to die or kill for one another simply because they care. It was a sweet, simple friendship, but it was beautiful just the same.
I don’t care much for the politics of the story and found the chapters in the royal palace kind of dull. Agnieska dragged on her development quite a bit during those times and I couldn’t help but wish she would leave the palace and rejoin Dragon to fight against the Wood together with Kasia at her side. So many times in the palace chapters I just wanted her to break out her Jaga-style “the magic feels like this to me” skills and show up the other wizards and witches in the palace who think she’s not good enough to even be an apprentice. But she didn’t and sort of just let them push her around and make her feel insignificant, so I found I cared little about the political goings-on within the palace. But I know a lot of those moments were significant in one way or another to propel the story forward; and fortunately, that tangent was fairly short and we get right back on track.
But as I had stated already, sometimes there are just books that you love so much that you are willing to overlook a mountain of faults. Because awesome book is awesome. Not that Uprooted had a mountain of faults, because it didn’t really have that many. I’m just saying that this time around, I’m willing to let my enjoyment of this book overrule anything else I might have dragged up to quibble about. Because in the end, Uprooted was a very enjoyable, beautifully written book that I found I really, really liked a lot.