Once in a while, a book totally surprises you. I’m not talking about a book that turns out to be a little better or worse than you expected. I’m not even talking about a plot twist that threw you for a loop. I’m talking about a book that you were totally unexcited about, possibly even dreading, which turns out to be pretty freaking incredible and makes you rethink what you really want as a reader. THAT kind of surprise.
Such was the case with Naomi Novik’s Uprooted. I am not a sci-fi reader. I don’t do fantasy. I barely even dabble in YA, and even when I do, it’s with my water wings and swimming partner guiding me closely. That said, I LOVED THIS BOOK!
This book wasn’t even on my radar until someone told me it already ranks as their favorite book of the year (and this is someone who read my beloved In Wilderness!). In disbelief, I riffled through the ARCs precariously leaning in our backroom until I came on an advanced copy literally covered in blurbs by everyone from Ursula K. Le Guin to Kelly Link to Gregory Maguire to Patrick Rothfuss to Neil Gaiman… Seriously, the ARC is entirely consumed by the best and the brightest of today’s working sci-fi/fantasy writers, leaving only a splash across the front for the title and the author’s name. I would have taken a photo of this impressive preliminary cover, but it seems to have disappeared from the back room, snatched up by someone else eager to read this awesome, awesome book.
So why is this book so great? This book reminded me of all the pleasure and anticipation I had upon picking up The Lord of the Rings for the first time. It reminded me of holding my breath when I was young, a big book of fairy tales spread on my lap. It reminded me why reading novels can be so, incredibly fun.
And I’m not the only one. Setting aside Uprooted’s unreal GoodReads reviews and critical acclaim, word on the street is that Novik was just the turning point of a huge bidding war for the movie rights. Chances are, this might be the movie that will fill the void in our hearts once they’re done making 700 versions of the Hobbit.
Uprooted is the story of a town in a faraway land. Isn’t that how the best stories begin? Every ten years, a feared wizard known only as the dragon descends from his tower in the distance to take a girl from the village. No one knows what happens in the tower after the girl is taken. No one knows why the girl is taken to begin with. But that’s the world as Novik introduces it. A fearful town, a powerful wizard, and a selection of girls heading towards no-one-quite-knows-what.
Agnieszka is one of the girls optioned off to the Dragon this year. Throughout the novel, Agnieszka is the force that keeps anything from becoming trite or overdrawn. May I say on a personal level, Agnieszka is one of the most enjoyable heroines I have met in the literary world in quite some time. Her forceful emotional presence reminds us why we fight for what we love, and how unique our failings make us.
I won’t tell you any more of the plot, because it’s not really necessary. Like I said, I don’t read books about dragons (with one big, Ishiguro-shaped exception). I don’t read swashbuckling fantasy epics like Game of Thrones or even the much lauded Patrick Rothfuss Series, although now I might rethink that omission. This book is good enough to introduce even the most contemporary reader into the pleasure of the fantastical. Sometimes a little sword fight and magic spell just hits the mark!
And let me say a quick word about the YA angle: I do not believe this book is YA any more than A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or Great Expectations are YA. We’ve become far too cavalier with our “crossover” conversations. This is a book intended for adults that younger readers will likely enjoy, as well. There are no high schools, no waring teenagers, and a whole lot of adult relationships, both steamy and violent. I’m not making any declarations about the boom of YA literature in the last 10 years. I am, however, decrying this an adult book that has left the door open for younger readers.
This book reads at lightning speed. I was not above canceling plans to make sure that I could read the last 250 pages in one sitting. The plot is a thing of beauty, leading you carefully through the murky and horrific world of Novik’s creation. Her characters are vibrant forces of nature, with natural dialogue in an unnatural setting. And then there’s her writing… Let me tell you, when I put this book down, I thought I could honestly cast spells. Her magic is infectious.
Some books are great to pick up before you take a vacation. This is the kind of book that you should plan a vacation in order to read. Seriously. Go snag a copy. You won’t regret it.