Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted is a straightforward fantasy featuring a YA-type of protagonist and a fairy-tale feel. The book is a very well written standalone that will appeal to many ages from teen on up. And while it does rack up cliches in both genres (YA and fantasy), Novik skillfully weaves the story so that readers won’t mind.

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Story: Agnieszka is a clumsy, homely, rather ordinary girl (YA cliche 1) sure that the century-old wizard in the tower will choose the lovely and talented Kasia instead (YA cliche 2). For every ten years the Dragon takes a girl, keeps her in the tower, and after she leaves their valley and makes a new life for herself in the big city.  But things are changing in Agnieszka’s valley: the evil in the wood is growing bolder and the Wizard’s tower is in its path. When Agnieszka is chosen over Kasia YA cliche 3), the balance of power will greatly change – and this time, the wood may win. At the same time, Agnieszka is in danger of losing her heart to the overbearing (YA cliche 4) ancient wizard with the face of a young man (YA cliche 5).

From the synopsis, it did sound like most of the story would be a Beauty and the Beast retelling with most of the action taking place in the tower and a soppy love story thrown on for the YA crowd. But Novik is a skilled enough writer that this is an original fantasy piece. Unfortunately, the typical ‘unique snowflake’ mary sue undermines (and underwhelms) the story and the ‘romance’ ended feeling a bit too ‘insta luv’. Take Twlight’s clumsy Bella, add in 100 year old vampi…wizard, and then tell a story of a girl learning to use her unique world saving power and you get the idea.  I couldn’t help but feel that I’ve read this story before. But again, it is a testament to Novik’s skill as a writer that the story was still very enjoyable.

I have to admit, I didn’t warm up to either Agnieszka or the Wizard. Our heroine is always dirty/clutzy/clumsy, someone simple minded, and prone to impulsive actions that require her to be saved often by the wizard (the age old YA/romance cliche). The relationship between the two is somewhat inexplicable – he’s a jerk in every single scene and she laps it up. I had hoped to see a spark or something to explain the attraction – but that never materialized for me.

Had this been written ten years previous, I likely would have absolutely loved it. But as a reader well versed in YA, I did wish vainly that the story would take a unique turn.  That said, it is a book I can recommend without reservation since it flows smoothly and has a good heart. Reviewed from an advance reader copy.

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