Review of “Uprooted” by Naomi Novik

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Rating: 3/5 Stars

Pub: May 19th 2015 by Del Rey

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

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.” -Summary from Goodreads.com

This book has a few instances of violence against women. Dragon grabs her arms and quite literally drags her, to the point of bruising, and early on a prince tries to rape her. Dragon calls her useless among many other things. These things didn’t sit well with me. The Dragon was almost too mean in the beginning. That being said I am a romantic, and I still liked the buildup of them getting to know each other. I won’t spoil it but I loved loved learning his real name and the magic she felt with it.

I am aware that this book draws quite a bit from Eastern European folklore of which I’m not too familiar with (except vampires) so I don’t feel a great authority to speak on that. I’d also be interested to learn more about the language used for the magic spells!

Dragon and Agnieszka spend a good chunk of the story apart, rendering it not really/completely about them, as the sorely lacking synopsis alludes to. (Seriously that synopsis is bad). There was also a lot of uninteresting court politics in this book. It was very long and had a few different pieces to it, I think this whole world and story could have been told in more than one book (and I am not usually the person to say this).

I did like the ending, even if it did feel a little abrupt. The best part of it for me was what Agnieszka was doing, that felt real to her character. It wasn’t all about the love story and she didn’t just blindly follow Dragon, she did what she knew was true to her. I liked that.

With all that said I don’t think this is exactly my type of fairy tale retelling, there was a good amount of pieces I didn’t really enjoy. But the story is there and quite detailed, so still 3 stars for me.

Review “The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic” by Emily Croy Barker

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

Emily Croy Barker

Pub: Aug 2013, Pamela Dorman/Penguin

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Rating 3.5/5

“Nora Fischer’s dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman.  During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she’s transformed from a drab grad student into a stunning beauty.  Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true.

Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally—and a reluctant one at that—is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Aruendiel’s student—and learning magic herself—to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her “real life” against the dangerous power of love and magic.” -Goodreads.com

I had a lot of trouble rating this book, due to various reasons. I picked this up at a random trip to Barnes & Noble; it hadn’t been on my reading list but it sounded interesting and the fact that Deborah Harkness’ review was on the front definitely hooked me. (I always questioned whether those worked and apparently they do). If this was to be anything like All Souls Trilogy I knew that I’d love it. I also liked the quote on the back of my edition that said: “If Hermione Granger had been an American who never received an invitation to Hogwarts, this might have been her story.” (People).

I will say that the title is absolutely horrible, I don’t know how that got past editing. I continuously forgot it when I tried to talk about it with other people: “The Practical Woman’s Guide to Magic? No that’s not right. The Smart Woman’s Guide to Practical Magic? No that’s not right either.” was my constant inner dialogue until I took out my phone and looked it up.  Short and sweet is always better. I was also surprised that a lot of this book didn’t get cut out of editing (although I’m sure it did, but more on that later). It’s rare to see a dense ~550 page book with lots of details and information that aren’t completely pertinent cut out. I didn’t mind too much though. Her prose was dense but accessible, well-done and beautifully detailed. World-building prowess? Hell yes.  If you’re looking for lots of action and plot, this isn’t it. The beauty is in the details and slow buildup.

The characters are great. Mostly Aruendiel (how do you pronounce that correctly anyway?). He was crotchety and grumpy but pretty funny. Barker is great at capturing little nuances. I will say that I was very disappointed in the ending. I was only slightly placated by the promise of a sequel and also a book three, which you can find more about here. I had to look this up immediately, thinking it just can’t end here. I get pretty annoyed when author’s set up a book for a sequel and leave things unresolved. Pro tip: if your writing is good enough I WILL come back for more, no need for tricks. She does say in that article that it was originally 1,000 pages long and her agent told her to save it for a sequel. I get it, but it could have ended in a better place to appease fans. People seem pretty angry about it on Goodreads. As a writer myself, I don’t feel the need for quite that level of hostility, but on some level I get it.

There were so many what ifs, unanswered questions and plot lines in this book. It’s akin to real life but not completely entertaining for fiction. Maybe I just needed a little bit more to happen or a little bit more from Nora. With that said I am still looking forward to the sequel. This book was long and took a bit to get through but I enjoyed it and it never felt exhausting to me. I give props to the author for still making it exciting and for her world-building. Like Deborah Harkness, she comes from the world of academia and it shows.
Any thoughts?

PS: This Goodreads summary is really quite the spoiler about a passage home opening. Not pleased about that.