Uprooted by Naomi Novik

“I don’t want more sense!” I said loudly, beating against the silence of the room. “Not if sense means I’ll stop loving anyone. What is there besides people that’s worth holding on to?”

I read “Spinning Silver” first and liked it a lot. “Uprooted”, I’d heard, was even better and while it’s certainly a great book, I’m not actually sure if “Spinning Silver”’s minor pacing flaw wouldn’t have made this book even better.

“Uprooted” tells the story of Agnieszka who lives in a small village near the Wood. Capital letter, because it’s an evil wood! Evil as in, monsters roaming it and everyone going into it either staying there, never to be seen again, or coming out corrupted to the core.

Fortunately, a Dragon (who is actually a wizard called Sarkan) lives nearby and protects the village and its inhabitants – albeit at a price because every ten years he takes a daughter from the village and this time it’s Agnieszka. Afterwards, chaos ensues.

A good, highly entertaining chaos with, admittedly, a lot of method behind it but a bit breathless. Where “Spinning Silver” was slow at times because Novik took time to tell her story slowly and with great care, “Uprooted” mostly rushes through the highly enjoyable story. It feels like the story practically broke free from Novik, as if it simply had to get out and be told without any delay:

“The swelling heat of it filled me, burning bright, almost unbearable.”

You don’t leisurely read “Uprooted”; you feverishly turn the pages as fast as you can, you wolf it down in large chunks, not wasting any time with chewing carefully. You just want, no, need to get your fill of the story!

Yes, it’s that exciting. The excitement is so great, though, that it can become if not almost unbearable but slightly tiresome.

I just wish Novik had paced her storytelling a bit – why not tell us more about Agnieszka’s first months in Sarkan’s tower after having been chosen?

Why not tell us more about the wizards at the king’s court, especially Alosha? What about Sigmund? The children? The princess?

There are so many interesting and potentially lovable characters who make a – more or less – short appearance and are only ever mentioned again in passing. After all, pretty much all characters are so wonderfully human with their strengths, their weaknesses and everything that makes them so believable.

The breakneck speed at which large parts of the story are told doesn’t leave much room for pure literary enjoyment, it doesn’t lend itself to thoughts about guilt and redemption as was the case in “Spinning Silver”. It doesn’t leave enough room for losing oneself among the pages – the Wood is always lurking just around the corner and the reader never feels entirely safe; it’s literally “one trap after another”.

In spite of my criticism, I really, really enjoyed this book – it’s a fairy tale gone (action) thriller in part and it has the same dry subtle humour that I loved about “Spinning Silver”…

“but the thought of putting a knife into a man was something else, unimaginable. So I didn’t imagine it. I only put the knife on the tray, and went upstairs.”

… and the same beautiful and relatable style:

“Happiness was bubbling up through me, a bright stream laughing.”

Ultimately, “Uprooted” is a book that leaves me hungering for more. Hopefully a bit more relaxed and laid-back next time, a bit more like “Spinning Silver”. In fact, since we’re talking about modern fairy tales, let me make a wish:

Dear Naomi Novik, creator of amazing literary worlds, first among the fair folk, gifted among authors, please write a book that combines “Uprooted”’s thrills with “Spinning Silver”’s depth and eternal praise be yours!

P. S.: Naomi, what’s that grudge against poor squirrels?

“I stumbled over the torn and spoiled body of a rabbit or a squirrel, killed as far as I could see just for cruelty;” (Uprooted)

“He had a small bow and arrow, and shot squirrels, and when he hit them, he came and looked at their little dead bodies with pleasure.” (Spinning Silver)

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