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Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Lush fantasy with a fairy tale pedigree

4.5 of 5 stars

Uprooted is on my Best of 2015 list. It’s astonishing and lovely. I loved it hard.

The cover design and blurb from Gregory Maguire hinted at fairy tale involvement, and the first paragraph sealed the impression. My expectations plummeted. Fairy tale-derived fantasies have been popular for a long time, and I am a sucker for picking them up and being disappointed. I do have my favorites; Jim C. Hines’ Princess series and Robin McKinley’s assorted re-imaginings come to mind, as does Stephen Brust’s Brokedown Palace, which remains my benchmark for judging the effectiveness of a new story built on the bones of older ones.

I loved Uprooted more than all those.

Why? Let me count the reasons: richly descriptive world-building; layers and layers of history and meaning peeled back and presented with loving care; magic that isn’t all about systems and structures and science-y trappings, a narrative voice full of personality; and characters so real I could imagine hanging out with them.

I won’t go into details about the plot. It has one. It has several. They are all delightful. The classic standards are all just a little twisted, the tropes and archetypes just a little subverted, and everyone is very aware of the power of myth and folklore, not to mention the magic of names and blood.

It’s all so very, very good. Events don’t move fast at first, but the tension builds and builds beautifully, the stakes go from personal to political to world-shaking, and the resolution was everything I could have asked…and yet I still wished the story went on.

As an added bonus, the lyrical, intimate style is light years away from the formal, stiff C. S. Forster-esque prose of the Temeraire series. I decided Naomi Novik had stunning talent after reading His Majesty’s Dragon, but now I have tangible proof in hand to wave at people who think she “only writes those dragon books.” She is a versatile word genius. So.

By K. M. Herkes

Author, gardener, and cat wrangler.

3 replies on “Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik”

You write the best reviews – just enough detail to whet the interest and clear reasons why the book is good, without giving away the entire plot or surprises. I enjoyed Novik’s Napoleonic dragon series so much, you’ve convinced me to pick this one up.

I think you’ll enjoy it. And thank you for the compliment, btw. I’m trying to adapt the hand-selling techniques I learned in book retail to the wider audience on the Internet. Browsing customers unsure what they wanted rarely cared about a book’s full plot, and none of them wanted to hear a long list of its pros & cons on the sales floor. They wanted to know in the least possible time why they might enjoy it.

So see no need to overwhelm people reading my revieef with data irrelevant to the decision-making process.

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