Uprooted by Naomi Novik: A Brief Review
Naomi Novik is an amazing story teller. I have reviewed her Temeraire series very positively, so when I found Uprooted for a good price, I bought it before reading it. I had also heard that Warner Bros and Ellen DeGeneres planned to adapt it. I was a little disappointed. Befitting Novik's style, her world is well developed and beautifully described and her plot is compelling. However, the characters were not as compelling as Temeraire's.
Agnieszka, the main character, is chosen as her village's "sacrifice" to a wizard called "The Dragon" or Sarkan. She is taken away to live with him in his tower as a servant for ten years. It turns out that she is also a wizard, but her style is much different from Sarkan's, so she has difficulty at first. The central antagonist is the rotten Wood, located near Agnieszka's home and driven by the vengeful Queen of the Wood, who is a sort of tree person who can also possess people if they become "infected" by the Wood. Sarkan's central job is to keep this corruption at bay, but he is beginning to lose the battle when the story starts.
Student/Older Teacher Relationship
My beef with Uprooted stems from the relationship Agnieszka has with Sarkan, who is several hundred years older than her and an authority figure. I thought it was cool when they began learning to accept one another's different magic styles so that they could collaborate and create something more powerful than either could have accomplished on their own. However, I thought the sex scene was a little over the top.
No Self Control in Evidence
Novik applied her gift for description here, where it wasn't really necessary or, I would argue, appropriate. There is a general lack of restraint in these two characters, which I found unbelievable. Sarkan has a young female servant in his tower every ten years, and he tends to choose beautiful and talented ones. However, it is repeatedly emphasized that he does not take advantage of these girls sexually. This is, of course, important because if he is going to have a relationship with the main character, he has to show some fidelity. However, his values disappear when his student connects with him magically and arouses him. He is willing to have a one night stand with her then, as if he never had to exercise self-control before.
Agnieszka, for her part, seems like a very intellectual person, but she has no inner thoughts about her relationship with Sarkan. She does not rationalize her attraction to him, when previously she couldn't stand him. Novik also does not engage the topic of age gap relationships. Sarkan is hundreds of years older than Agnieszka, but she doesn't care because he looks young, and he doesn't care because he wants her anyway. Therefore, their relationship, which Novik initially based on the attraction of their minds, degrades into a carnal emotions. I am not saying that such motivations are not realistic, only that they are unrealistic for these types of characters. There are no thoughts to consequences or future plans--highly unlikely between two high-level thinkers and problem-solvers.
Pride and Prejudice
Agnieszka and Sarkan's relationship reminded me of The Black Magician Trilogy by Trudi Canavan, which I read earlier this year. The main character Sonea is also a young magician who falls in lust with her much older mentor, for whom she previously held feelings of dislike and fear. In both these stories, this early repulsion is difficult to overcome once established in the reader's mind. Pride and Prejudice works because, although Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy hate each other, they remain attracted. In Uprooted, I had difficulty transitioning with Agnieszka from her dislike of Sarkan to her longing for him. The reasons she disliked him at first are still valid. He is much older than her; his teaching style is cruel; he is antisocial and unsympathetic to the needs of others. As he grew as a character, I gained respect for him, but not attraction.
As I said, Uprooted has Novik's flair for description. The world is complete and compelling. I've heard the story compared to a Grimm's fairy tale, and it certainly is a bit dark. Pain and revenge are central themes. If this is your kind of story, I recommend it--It was good!--but I think it would have been better if Agnieszka and Sarkan's relationship had not been a romantic one.