Saturday 7 May 2016

Book review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted is a fantasy that would be a fairy tale were it pared down to the bone. I greatly liked it, and read it in a few sittings, rather stretching out my afternoons when I should have been in the garden.

There's lots of things I liked, that thinking back probably reflect the fairy-tale stuff. There's a king for example, but he's just The King most of the time, he only just about has a name. There's a knight-in-armour, who has a name, but who is effectively the Knight in Armour, well sort of. There's the valley, which might have a name but who cares; and there's the capital city, which didn't. But this is all good, because it contributes to the atmosphere. And there's a Wood, with no name but developing properties. The story centers around the Young Apprentice, sort of.

That's enough generic description and about as much flavour as I can give without giving it away. Only read on if you don't mind knowing the story.

The Young Heroine lives in a poor-but-happy house in a p-b-h village in a valley whose Lord Dragon is sort-of-terrible - he takes a girl as servant every ten years - but otherwise merely distant. Inevitably, he take Our Heroine instead of the Girl With All The Talents, for reasons initially unclear but eventually she realises, because she has Magic. Naturally He is haughty and unimpressed by her fumbling; naturally She is resentful and lonely in the Distant Tower. She fails to do Magic his way but slows grows in strength her way, a sort of Earthy, Messy, and possible Female sort of magic. Still, she is Apprentice, until he is called away and she has to deal, Alone, with the Growing Experience of fighting off The Wood. Later, she has to rescue the GWATT from The Wood, and again Grows; The Queen (for slightly hard-to-explain reasons, so I won't) and again Grows. This brings on the attentions of the KIA and so she has to travel to the City, but without The Dragon, so again she has to Grow. The Court is strange to her; she has to learn to Be Herself; to Solve Mysteries; and finally to Flee back to the Dragon for the Final Climatic Battle which turns out to be but one stage. The Final Unravelling is also Climatic but Unifying; Peace with The Wood is restored and those too broken to heal are given Rest.

Things that are slightly unsatisfactory but which I forgive: there's no clear reason why she is so powerful so young, or why her earthy magic so differs from the other's more bookish style; though there are hints that she is a throwback to a Baba Yaga-ish ancestor. Her house, village and valley are too uncomplicatedly happy and free of conflict; though that's also good, because there's no tedious messy details-for-the-sake-of-details stuff you'll find in The Eye of the World.