Apr. 16th, 2016

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Got injured there for a bit, but now we're back.

Book #6: Uprooted
Author: Naomi Novik
Provenance: Borrowed from Westmount Library

This is the kind of book that I come into, and I feel like it's more or less being made for me. It's playing with fairy tale tropes, but it's not retelling any particular fairy tale. And it's written by an author that I've wanted to read for a long time, but I was reticent about getting into her series. So finally she writes a standalone one, and I'm like super onboard! And I'm slightly prepared to be let down, but nope, Novik delivers exactly the sort of book that I'd expected she would write, with magic and believable characters and important themes and a strong, crucial friendship between women. It is glorious.

Our story: Agnieszka and her best friend Kasia have grown up in the same village in a very Polish-inflected fantasy kingdom. Kasia is very powerful and determined, smart and beautiful, and Agnieszka is less so. She may be smart and stubborn, and she may have her own set of talents, like being able to find anything out in the Wood they live near, and a budding propensity for magic, but she's also clumsy and messy and less the classic woman than Kasia. And because of that, she's viewed as being less likely to be taken by the Dragon.

Oh, yes, there's a Dragon that also comes down to the village once every ten years to take one of the young women from the town. But this Dragon is less full of scales, and more full of wizardry: a magician who lives in a tower at the end of their valley, and carries the responsibility for protecting it. The women he chooses stay in the tower with him for ten years, and then are free to go... but none of them ever decide to come home again afterwards. So needless to say, getting chosen isn't seen as a wonderful thing. Everyone assumes Kasia, apparently being the cream of the village's crop, will get selected, but instead, it's Agnieszka. And so the whole story begins.

I don't want to go through the plot too much, but it spreads out naturally and wonderfully, from the mechanics of living in the old tower with a powerful magician, to dealing with the valley and the Wood, to matters of country and crown, moving from stage to stage in a way that feels natural, without losing track of the characters. And the main set of characters are really well-realized: Agnieszka, Kasia, the Dragon, and then the most beloved prince of the country and the Dragon's main rival magician. The world is vibrant and real, and the Polish feel to the story is strong, from the names to the architecture to the magic background (let's just say that Baba Jaga is very much name-checked as a historical character in this Polnya).

I really enjoyed the relationship between Agnieszka and Kasia - how it changes, how devoted they are to each other, and the place Kasia comes to hold in the world Agnieszka moves into. And the magic is superb; it's really shades of Diana Wynne Jones, which is quite the compliment from me. Different people have different kinds of magic (and the mysterious Wood has still another), and working out how your magic can work, and how you can intertwine your power with others, is very important. Like in many DWJ books, viewing yourself through the wrong lens keeps you from your power. And here, Agnieszka's realizations and growth, and how that bounces off the Dragon and changes their relationship, makes the book feel even more real and magical on top of the literal magic being tossed around. Her time around politics also really works - her character's got a coherent core that carries through the story.

This isn't quite the perfect book for me, but it's close, and it was very enjoyable. If you're interested in fantasy, and you want a magical world that will seem familiar and yet enticingly different, this is definitely a book for you, too. You won't get uprooted while you're reading it, that's for sure.


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