ARC Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novak

review                 book

title:  Uprooted
author:  Naomi Novak
pages: 438
format:  Kindle ARC  
isbn/asin: 978-9780804179034
buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

recommended for:  Fans of A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce, The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, and the original Grimm's fairy tales.  Warning: Yes, there is sex.  Avert thine eyes, younglings.  

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose. 

in short

I grew up on Grimm's fairy tales.  I had a lovely old copy with every story in it, and I read them so many times that I could repeat many of them by heart.  They're special stories.  While they have an air of whimsy, they're also dark and sinister, with the unsettling sense that the world is larger and more magical than you could have dreamed.  Unique among the rash of recent fairy tale books, Uprooted captures that Grimm atmosphere while spinning its own, completely original tale.  Despite slow pacing in the middle and a few questionable scenes, this book captivated me in a way that few can, invading my thoughts when I wasn't reading and spilling into my dreams.  There were scenes I'd re-read multiple times even before I'd finished it, and dozens more I highlighted, afraid I'd forget how Novak said something just so.  This is a devastatingly magical, romantic book that reads like a classic.  I defy you to dislike it.   

in depth

this isn't a retelling
I love a good fairy tale retelling.  Witness my giddy gushing over Cruel Beauty.  However, there's something especially satisfying about a new fairy tale.  Uprooted gives us the story of Agnieszka, a woodcutter's daughter with a knack for ruining her clothes.  Her village is poised between the Wood, a magical forest to end all magical forests, and the Dragon, a solitary wizard who protects the people of the valley--for the price of one 17-year-old girl, every ten years.  When Agnieszka is chosen, she expects to be enslaved, ravished, or suffer horrors unimaginable.  Instead, she finds that her clumsy, rough exterior hides a magic of terrifying power.  Just in time, because there are sinister things echoing from the heart of the Wood, too insidious to be stopped by a mere Dragon.  

but it does have a fairy tale heroine
Lucky for the victims of the Wood, there's Agnieszka.  Our heroine is can-do and insecure, but brave when she needs to be.  Her recklessness may cause plenty of disasters, but the other side of that coin is innovation.  Everyone doubts and opposes her, thinking her strange and untutored, but she's willing to take the abuse if it means protecting her people.  In the end, it's Agnieszka's willingness to think beyond the ordinary and take risks that saves them all.  I love my sharp, confident Celaena Sardothiens, but it's also refreshing to have a heroine who doesn't have it all together.  Half the time, she's flying on currents of emotion.  Novak imposes some real, devastating consequences for her foolhardiness, but also allows her to grow and triumph.  

with a romantic side, of course.
With the Wood stretching roots into their kingdom, Agnieszka and the Dragon are pushed together by necessity.  Their unwitting partnership and inevitable romance is sweet and surprising.  The Dragon is a special kind of swoonworthy, cool and collected and about as tactful as an air raid siren.  His abrasiveness will probably irk readers used to the honey-coated types, but I relished his sarcasm and stubborn sullenness.  (Even though, at times, his negativity felt a little dramatic, and his victim blaming at the beginning nearly ruined the whole thing for me.)  

she's caught in a steamy romance,
Because of the Dragon's special personality, there is absolutely no danger of instalove.  Their love develops slowly, molasses-slow, from profound dislike and distrust to tentative partnership to a terrifying pull that neither of them are prepared for.  Every time they twined their magic together or snapped sarcastic retorts, I did that super girly giddy thing where I just really wanted to squeeze something.  Even better, the romance is one thread of the plot, but it's incredibly subtle.  There are much more pressing matters than making out.  (Though there's plenty of time for that, thank god.)  

but this isn't an isolated love story.
Agnieszka and the Dragon get the most screentime, but they're surrounded by a good dozen key players who drive the story just as strongly.   A favorite is Kasia, Agnieszka's best friend.  I won't spoil it, but she plays a major role, both by her own actions and by her effects on Agnieszka.  Their friendship is, I'm going to say it, heartwarming.  It defines them as people and keeps Agnieszka relatable and grounded.  On the other hand is scheming Solya, a court wizard with a blind spot for power, and Marek, an entitled prince who ranges from deplorable to pitiable.  

it's a grand, tangled adventure
That's the brilliance of Uprooted; there's an epic scope to it that brings it from the realm of mere romance to something grander and more sweeping.  There's the problem of the Dragon's girls, but there's also the dangerous creep of the Wood, a war brewing with the kingdom's next door neighbor, and a web of court intrigue.  Though the tone is more fantastical here, I'm reminded of The Winner's Curse with its complex narrative and unpredictable plotline.  Uprooted keeps you guessing until the surprising, beautiful, bittersweet end, so very worthy of a true fairy tale.  

written with the gorgeousness of an old fairy tale.
In case you weren't already convinced, Uprooted isn't just a clever plot with compelling characters.  Novak writes with the authenticity of someone who lives and breathes fairy tales (or at least has studied them extensively).  The root motifs are clever but not heavyhanded.  There are nods all over to various Grimm elements.  The Polish flavor was also a lovely surprise; you don't see too many Poles popping about the fantasy word.  Once in a while I felt like Agnieszka's dialogue was too childish or modern, but not enough to run screaming.  (Come on, it wouldn't be my review if I didn't nitpick about something.) In general, Novak's style has an olden sense to it without being annoyingly archaic, and she knows just when to dip into humor and when to lavish on the descriptions.  I got all the same sparkly magical feels reading this as I do every time I read Howl's Moving Castle--only the romance here is much sizzlier.  

in a sentence

Uprooted is an instant classic, a sprawling fairy tale about the power of connections between people to create or destroy.  

rating:        5/5    or    9.7/10

will i read this author again?:  Dear god yes.  
will i continue the series?:  N/A.  I sort of wish there could be one, maybe focusing on other characters in the world.  

Note: I received this copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.  

P.S. I'm trying out a new review style. What do you think? Better or worse than the old one? 


  1. YES, YES, YES YES YES! I am so glad you loved this book too. Everyone I know who has read it has loved it so much. It's a brilliant fantasy and I agree that it's a new fairy tale that feels familiar yet creative. I loved it, one of my favorite books of the year!
    Cassi @ My Thoughts Literally

    1. It was SO FREAKING GOOD. I'm with you, one of the best of the year. I don't see it getting usurped in the near future, either. I'm just surprised there hasn't been as much hype, considering how much everyone loves it.

  2. The positive reviews for this one make me wonder WHY I didn't request a copy earlier - mine should show up any day now and believe me, I'll be digging in as soon as it does. I didn't think I could get more excited for this one, but your review managed to do just that! I can't wait to check out this 'new fairytale' for myself :D Awesome review CJ and I love the new format (but I also liked your previous format)^^ xx

    1. I hate when that happens. Sometimes, they just don't seem as magical at first glance. I hope you like it! I'm so glad that I increased your enthusiasm. (:

      Thanks! I was just getting sick of the old format. I kind of like this one. It's more freeform. We'll see what I end up going with. I change my mind every other minute.

  3. What a great review! I agree on all counts! This book was absolutely amazing to me. I loved how old myths and fairy tales were used as inspiration but how this was an entirely unique tale. I also thought that the characters were amazingly well written. The romance was perfect for me. I found it swoon-worthy and I loved how subtle it is. I love a good romance that is deep but that doesn't take over a nice and complex story.

    Also, your new review style is very nice. I love the different sections.

    Cayt @ Vicarious Caytastrophe

    1. Thank you! I agree. This is one of my more favorite romances in a while. I agree, it's better when it doesn't take over.

      Thanks! I'm trying out some new things. (:

  4. ooh a new fairy tale. That sounds great! And I love the cover. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention. I'm glad you loved it so much!

    Great Review!

    Michelle @ Book Briefs

    1. I hope you get to read it. It's so phenomenal. Apparently they're making a movie of it, in which they will probably ruin it but maybe not because Ellen's doing it.