I adored the Temeraire novels (at least those that had been written at the time) as a teenager, but hadn't tried any of Novik's other work since. As a fantasy novel based on eastern european folk tales, Uprooted had been on my 'to read' list for a few years, and seemed just my cup of tea. Somewhat unusually, however, I'm having difficulty trying to put into words what I think of it.
This is because Uprooted is one of those rare books that, if you were to ask me how I was enjoying it at different points in the story, I would give you very different answers. It starts a little uncertainly, but soon builds into something wonderful as fragments of the world's secrets are slowly revealed: Why does the lord of the valley take a girl as a servant every ten years, but then release them apparently unharmed? What is the corruption that seems to be lurking at the heart of the wood? What powers does the protagonist posses that are at once different and alike to that of the wizard in the tower?
The choreography is initially meticulous and it all unfolds beautifully, with underlying hints of a very folksy magic intertwining perfectly with Novik's wonderful prose; though the illusion is shattered a little too frequently by the odd americanism slipping in (getting something from "in back" sounds very out of place in this setting to my ears). The slow process of Agnieszka learning about magic from the 'Dragon' of the tower is just different enough from the norm to be thoroughly riveting in its details.
As is the way with many stories, some external event occurs that separates the protagonist from her tutor in the magical arts, and she suddenly has to try and fend for herself long before she is ready. The pacing of the story explodes and each chapter is left on a cliffhanger. For many nights I could not put the book down and the whole experience was thoroughly riveting.
Except, of course, until it wasn't. The biggest flaw with Uprooted, you see, is that, once the pace of the story has accelerated, it never slows down again. The breakneck speed of the novel is exhilarating for a while, but some periods of calm reflection would have been appreciated, especially in a book so long. Instead, it feels like running a marathon at a sprinting pace and, after a time, my excitement started to wane a little and I was left wanting a change of tone.
This sudden acceleration to breakneck pace is sadly reflected in the protagonist, Agnieszka, who goes from one moment knowing nothing about magic to in the next being seemingly more powerful than any other spell caster in the land. I still liked her as a character, but would have preferred a more steady development. Other characters have less dramatic transformations, but often lean the other way, to not changing at all. Sarkan, Agnieszka's tutor (and later bizarre choice of love interest) starts out as being cold and arrogant to the point of callousness and ends having thawed to an imperceptible degree.
It's a miscalculation that does marr what I initially thought might be my favourite book of the year. I only started to fall out of love with the book about two thirds of the way though, however, and there were still many aspects of the later sections that I enjoyed; especially those to do with the deeper mysteries of the setting. The wood itself is fascinating in the details of it's own (albeit twisted) ecosystem, and some slower passages describing that in favour of one of the many action scenes would have been an improvement.
Overall, I think I would still recommend Uprooted. For most of the book it's an absolute corker of a fantasy novel, and is wonderfully atmospheric all the way through. It just would have benefited from a less relentless pacing and some more gradual character development. Without quiet, after all, there can be no loud.