Uprooted manages to be both familiar and fresh all at the same time, which is a writing feat worthy of accolade. The familiar fairy tale tropes, like the wizard in his tower and the creepy wood, feel like signposts rather than a well trampled road. Novik pulls heavily from Polish fairy tales and culture, which is one of the things that makes this story stand out amongst its fantasy brethren – the Eastern European flavor is distinct next to so many stories that lean on British retellings, or occasionally German. With figures like Baba Yaga, instead of Morrigan La Fey, coloring the landscape this book immediately takes on a different feel that was enchanting and unexpected.
The writing is lovely. Period. Even when I was tired or distracted Novik pulled me in and kept me reading. She did a fantastic job of setting up tropes and then knocking them down. (For example: The charming prince in shining armor? Not so much.) The magic system was interesting and came to life in interesting ways. I enjoyed that there were different styles of magic, and how Novik made them all feel real. The characters were well realized, especially the women, and I was particularly invested in Agnieszka’s relationship with Kasia. And then there is the Wood, a well drawn landscape that was both menacing and vivid. There are scenes in this book that are so creepy they will stick with me for a long long time.
The one element of the book I go back and forth on is the romance, which is why this book doesn’t get five stars from me. It draws from the old beauty and the beast trope, which is one I personally have a tough time with. (I wish we would stop reinforcing the myth that romantically pursuing an abusive jerk is a Good Idea.) What redeems this angle for me is the way Agnieszka seems to own the romance – it always feels like what she does, or doesn’t do, romantically is for her and her own gratification. I don’t get the feeling that she’s using her love as a crutch, or would fall apart without it. So yeah, mixed feelings.
All in all I thought this book was a delight. Familiar enough it was a comfort, and fresh enough I never knew where I would end up – Novik took me on a walk through a scary Wood and I liked it. If you’re looking for a fairy tale retelling you haven’t read 100 times, or just a traditional fantasy with a twist, try this book out.