Thursday, July 30, 2015

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

These days we think of a masterpiece as an item of art of unparalleled beauty.

That's not what the word actually means.

A masterpiece was the piece of work a craftsman would present to his guild in order to be considered for master.

Thus, a masterpiece is the work that elevates somebody from merely good to, well, a level above that.

Uprooted is Naomi Novik's masterpiece.

Don't get me wrong. I love Temeraire. I love how she handles dragons, her deft understanding of the Napoleonic war, and her ability to channel the voice of Master and Commander. I still recommend the series.

The difference in maturity, voice and sheer ability to handle words between Temeraire and Uprooted is something else. It's a very different piece of work. Temeraire starts off squarely in the realm of military fantasy and then drifts into globetrotting adventure fiction.

Uprooted is a fairy tale. It has all of the fairy tale elements - the protagonist is a woodcutter's daughter. (And the only Dragon in it is a man - a wizard who has taken that as his magical title). It has monsters that hide in the dark woods. It even has Baba Yaga - Naomi Novik is a second generation Polish immigrant.

And this is a very eastern European book...down to the names.

Without revealing anything, the Dragon is a wizard who, for reasons known only to himself, takes one girl from the valley every ten years, keeps her as a servant and then releases her. This, of course, is a story that could easily be twisted into sacrificing maidens to dragons.

Then, he finds Agnieszka, and his intentions for her are quite different from ten years as his housekeeper...

And it goes from there. It's beautiful, it's dark, it's in the true tradition of the fairy tale (and very much for adults). Oh, and it has a couple of things to say about the folly of war as well.

Anyone who enjoys twists on fairy stories needs to read this book.