Tag Archives: naomi novik

Review: Uprooted (Naomi Novik)

Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Fantasy / Standalone

“We were of the valley. Born in the valley, of families planted too deep to leave even when they knew their daughter might be taken; raised in the valley, drinking of whatever power also fed the Wood.”

The woods near Agnieska’s hometown are dark and sinister, corrupting people who are caught too close or too careless. The town’s only protection is the Dragon, a powerful wizard who lives nearby. As his price, he takes one young woman from the village every ten years. Everyone is sure the next girl he takes will be Agnieska’s beautiful and talented best friend, Kasia – but when the time comes, he chooses Agnieska instead, and she finds herself face to face with the power and mystery of both the Dragon and the malevolent woods.

There are so many good things about this book. It is beautifully and cleverly written. I enjoyed the name, and how “uprootedness” comes back again and again both metaphorically and literally through the book. I appreciated the system of magic, and particularly the anti-classist themes that were explored by it. The Dragon looks down on Agnieska’s magic because it is rural, primitive, and intuitive, only to find it is more powerful – magically and emotionally – than his own. And I am always really pleased by the depiction of a complicated but strong female friendship like the one between Kasia and Agnieska.

But ultimately Uprooted felt unsatisfying for me, in spite of all the good things I can say about it. One reason, sadly, is the hype burnout effect. Having fallen in love with her Temeraire series, and then seeing the pretty much unanimous praise for Uprooted, I had enormous expectations for this book. I undoubtedly would have appreciated it much more if I had read it without any knowledge of Novik’s work and without having read any reviews. I went in fully expecting to love it to pieces, and that’s a tough bar for any book.

The second reason is the somewhat indefinable question of resonance – that is, do the story or characters resonate with me in a meaningful way? For whatever reason, this is where the book fell flat for me. Nothing about the book’s thematic content, or the characters, or the plot moved me particularly, and I’m at a bit of a loss to explain why when so many other people have found them so compelling.

The best I can do is try to compare and contrast with a similar book I read recently which did resonate with me, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn. There are countless similarities between the two books: a young girl who is ‘uprooted’, a Dragon who is actually a human man; a vain, narcissistic but strangely appealing love interest, and the mysterious, sinister woods who the protagonist feels both connected to and threatened by. Both books kept me excited and entertained throughout, but it was A Creature of Moonlight that left me in tears at the end. Uprooted has stronger writing, especially in the comparable sections with the young country protagonist adjusting to life at court, which was much more interesting, exciting, and nuanced in Uprooted. And yet I ended up connecting to the character much more in A Creature of Moonlight. I felt the book was so much about respecting the agency and choices of young women, and I related to it so forcefully. There were such obvious and tragic consequences for not respecting the decisions and values of young women in A Creature of Moonlight; the same consequences weren’t present for anyone in Upooted. And I’m especially referring to the Dragon, of course – I don’t feel like he ever has to face consequences for his condescending and disrespectful treatment of Agnieska.

Which brings me to my biggest issue with the book: the main relationships. I didn’t like the Dragon at all, and his relationship with Agnieska horrified me. I should clarify that I think he’s an interesting and well-written character – but an ass, and so I had no investment in Agnieska’s relationship with him. There is no chance I would pursue a romantic relationship with someone who had insulted my intelligence, habits, and appearance so casually for so long, and it was hard to watch Agnieska do just that. Kasia, on the other hand, I liked a great deal, but I wanted more out of her relationship with Agnieska. I would rather have spent more time exploring her emotional state and connection to Agnieska (and less time with the Dragon).

So that was Uprooted for me; I’m glad I read it, I enjoyed it, but I  wish I had loved it the way I wanted to.

If you like _____________, I recommend checking out Uprooted:

  • Eastern European folklore
  • Atmospheric fairytales
  • Coming of age stories about young women
  • Strong female friendships
  • Standalone (completed) epic fantasy

If you dislike____________, you might want to avoid Uprooted:

  • Content including attempted rape/sexual assault and abusive relationships

Tough Traveling: Flying Rides

Today is Thursday, so it’s Tough Traveling at Fantasy Review Barn, exploring the tropes of fantasyland… This week is: FLYING RIDES

Because honestly?  Horses just got boring.  (Thanks to author Anne Leonard for the suggestion).

Continue reading Tough Traveling: Flying Rides

Book Review: Throne of Jade (Naomi Novik)

Review: Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik
Historical fantasy, #2 of 9 Temeraire

‘“You speak in ignorant disdain of the foremost nation of the world,” Yongxing said, growing angry himself, “like all your country-men, who show no respect for that which is superior, and insult our customs.”
“For which I might consider myself as owing you some apology, sir, if you yourself had not so often insulted myself and my own country, or shown respect for any customs other than your own,” Laurence said.’

This is the second book in Naomi Novik’s fantastical reimagining of the Napoleonic Wars… with dragons! After the events of His Majesty’s Dragon, Temeraire has been revealed to be a Celestial, a Chinese dragon that is supposed to be ridden by only the Emperor and his kin. His Captain Will Laurence being neither of these things, the Chinese have come to take him back. Temeraire, naturally, refuses to be parted from Laurence, and thus the two of them begin the long journey to Temeraire’s homeland.

I have to confess that I felt let down by this book. There were several problems that served to make it less interesting than its humourous, exciting predecessor: Continue reading Book Review: Throne of Jade (Naomi Novik)

Top Ten Books I’ve read in the first half of 2015

I have been, at best, a sporadic participate in Top Ten Tuesday at the Broke and the Bookish… But I am particularly excited for this week’s, topic, which is an opportunity to think about the reading since starting this blog and pick my favourite ten reads.

Some comments: the top three were very easy for this – they are not only three of the best books I’ve read so far this year, but three of the best books I’ve read, period. If I gave star ratings, they would be 5/5 perfect scores.

After the top three, things get a little dicey, and I’m not as confident about the specific order, which might be a little different if I were to make the list tomorrow. Or even an hour from now! I am confident, though, that the books below are a fantastic testament to all the amazingness I’ve been reading since I started blogging this year.

I’ve also refrained from selecting multiple books from the same series, in the interest of variety. So without further ado, the top ten books I’ve read so far in 2015 – titles link to my reviews for further elaboration on why I enjoyed them!


 

creature of moonlight cover10.  A Creature of Moonlight, Rebecca Hahn 

An example of a wonderful Young Adult fantasy novel with feminist themes… If you are emotionally invested in young women’s agency and empowerment or grandparent/grandchild love, then this will be an especially moving read for you, as it was for me.

golem and jinni9.  The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker

The story of two unusual (and fantastical) immigrants and their journeys of self-discovery, set in New York City at the turn of the century.

palace of illusions8.  The Palace of Illusions, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni 

A retelling of the Sanskrit epic the Mabharata from the point of view of Princess Panchaali, the woman who married five husbands and whose desire for revenge started a war.

orleans cover7.  Orleans, Sherri L. Smith

This is my go-to recommendation for Young Adult fiction since I read it: an original, well written, romance-free novel with a fascinating urban post-apocalyptic setting and a great protagonist.

shining girls cover6.  The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes

The story of a time-traveling serial killer who selects his victims (the “shining girls”) from across time, and of the survivor who is trying to hunt him down.  A violent, unique, genre-bending crime thriller that kept me glued to the page.

his majesty's dragon5.  His Majesty’s Dragon, Naomi Novik

This book was just so much fun. If you are looking for fantastical entertainment and the idea of an alternate history where the Napoleonic Wars were fought with (super lovable) dragons sounds appealing, then may I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

bone dolls twin4.  The Bone Doll’s Twin, Lynn Flewelling

A prophecy says that the country of Skala can only be ruled by daughters, and so a jealous king murders the women and girls in his line to ensure his son’s place on the throne – except for one niece, who grows up in disguise and believing she is a boy in this first book of the creepy and addictive Tamir Triad.

station eleven3.  Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

This haunting, post-apocalyptic book is about what humanity has lost and how they continue to derive meaning from their lives after the end of civilization as we know it. Not your typical piece of sci-fi, this  elegant and tragic piece of art has stayed with me long after finishing it.

left hand of darkness2.  The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin’s masterpiece is full of astonishingly beautiful writing from its first sentence (“I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination,”) to its last. Everything about The Left Hand of Darkness lived up to what I have heard about it, and I found the experience of reading it profoundly moving.

ancillary justice cover1.  Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie

Sometimes you read a book and all you can think is, where has this book been all my life.  Unique ideas, challenging concepts, and themes that I care deeply about, all handled in an intelligent and meaningful way. A multibodied protagonist, a genderless society, artificial intelligence, social and class commentary… spaceships, explosions, personal vendettas, firefights. Ancillary Justice is everything that I ever wanted out of science fiction in one badass package.

 

Book Review: His Majesty’s Dragon (Naomi Novik)

Review: His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
Historical Fantasy / Temeraire, #1 of 9

Basically the only thing you need to know about this book is that it is a reimagining of the Napoleonic Wars… with dragons. What more could you want??

Will Laurence is a British Navy officer with a fiancé, his own ship, a good first officer, and a comfortable set up for life in general. His career is unexpectedly derailed when his ship captures a dragon egg from the French. When Temeraire – the dragon – hatches, he latches onto to Laurence (as dragons do, apparently) and Laurence gives up his life on the ocean for one of dragonback aerial combat.

Continue reading Book Review: His Majesty’s Dragon (Naomi Novik)

Tough Traveling: People on Boats

Today is Thursday, so it’s Tough Traveling at Fantasy Review Barn, exploring favourite fantastical tropes. This week is:  PEOPLE ON BOATS

Grab a map of Fantasyland and you are sure to see there is water.  Of course not everything important is going to happen on land, right?  Sometimes people actually have to get on a boat and hit the water.  Where, being fantasyland, anything can happen.

Some of the best people are on boats.

isabela

Like Isabela, pirate queen of my heart.

Continue reading Tough Traveling: People on Boats