Uprooted is the latest novel by Naomi Novik, whose writing has received much recognition. She is a recipient of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and multiple books in her Temeraire series have been New York Times bestsellers. The first novel in this series and her debut, His Majesty’s Dragon, won both the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel and the Locus Award for Best First Novel and was nominated for a Hugo Award in the Best Novel category. Despite the amount of praise I’ve seen for her work, I hadn’t read any of her books until reading Uprooted—and I now know I must remedy this because this stand alone fantasy is one of the most compelling books I’ve read in a long time!

 

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 an 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. [pp. 3]

Every ten years, the wizard known as the Dragon chooses a seventeen-year-old girl to live in his tower. She stays with him until the next choosing and leaves with a significant dowry once a decade has passed—but she never seems to be the same person she was before her time with the Dragon. All the girls taken by the Dragon choose to leave their former home behind once they are free; Agnieszka’s father says it’s like they forget how to live there and realize they should be afraid of living near the Wood that the Dragon protects them from.

Although Agnieszka is the right age to potentially be whisked away by the Dragon, neither she nor her family is concerned that he will choose her—everyone has known for years that her dearest friend Kasia will be the one chosen. The wizard always selects the girls who are special in some way, and Kasia is so beautiful, clever, and brave that Agnieszka imagines the girls in the stories she’s told as being at least somewhat like her friend. When the fateful day arrives, the Dragon does indeed look satisfied with Kasia, but he does not choose her in the end: it is Agnieszka he decides to take.

Agnieszka can’t figure out why the Dragon chose her instead of Kasia at first. She’s constantly getting food or mud on her clothes, she can’t cook particularly well, and her mere presence seems to irritate the wizard. She’s comforted to find messages from a previous girl indicating that she has nothing to fear from the Dragon, but she soon realizes he is treating her differently than the others: he is teaching her magic, and he chose her because one with magical ability must be taught. In this, Agnieszka also seems incapable of pleasing him as she finds the simplest cantrips difficult. Despite her early appearance of ineptitude,  Agnieszka proves to be quite powerful when she follows her own instincts instead of relying on his teaching—and she may be uniquely suited to help him protect others from the Wood.

Uprooted was absorbing from its first paragraph, but it’s not one of those books that faded after a strong opening—it managed to keep me captivated until the very end. It’s a delightfully-narrated fairy tale with magic both wondrous and dangerous, although it’s not what I’d call a grim book despite the terrors of the Wood. Most of all, I enjoyed reading about Agnieszka—a brave, persistent, goodhearted young woman—and her journey.

In some ways, Uprooted is predictable but it is also unconventional. Since I expected it from the start, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that there is a romance. Agnieszka has to leave her family to live with a wizard who doesn’t seem to like her very much, and romantic tension develops as the two learn to work together. I loved every single scene between her and the irritable Dragon and wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, but I was surprised that it wasn’t the main focus of the story or even the most prominent relationship. After Agnieszka left her home and Kasia behind, I figured Kasia would only be occasionally mentioned from that point forward and was pleased Kasia was an important character with her own heroic moments. Their friendship and the lengths Agnieszka go to for her friend drive much of the story since helping Kasia causes Agnieszka to gain a greater mastery of her magic in the first place—and much of what happens after is due to the news of what she discovers and her desire to protect her dearest friend.

While the friendship was important, the main driving force in Uprooted is Agnieszka herself. She is the catalyst for events and change, not just because she is a powerful witch but also because of who she is. In the beginning of the story, Agnieszka feels that she is not brave when compared to Kasia, whose voice does not waver when she speaks to the Dragon even though she’s convinced he will take her away from her home. Agnieszka’s unable to do anything right, including cooking and simple magic. It is perhaps a little convenient that magic comes to her as easily as it does once she discovers that she’s struggling because her magic is not like the Dragon’s, but she also has to work for it with study and experimentation in spite of being unusually gifted. Many would give up when faced with the same challenges, especially after being told what she wants to do is impossible, but Agnieszka does not. When she has a goal, she does her best to achieve it. She’s successful not just because of her power but because she’s persistent and willing to think about—and do—things differently. Agnieszka is amazing and so much stronger and braver than she gives herself credit for being.

At first, some of her courage does seem to be due to ignorance, though by the end I’m quite certain she’s aware of the risks that come with her decisions. Even though she’s heard the stories of people being taken by walkers and disappearing into the Wood forever—or worse, people who do return and seem fine until those around them begins hurting themselves—and remembers what happened to those who ate plants tainted by pollen from the Wood, it’s not exactly the same as seeing the depth of this corruption firsthand. The Wood is seriously creepy, and while the book does not tend to be overly dark or grisly, dealing with the Wood does come with a price.

My only criticism of Uprooted is minor. I did feel that the second half was not quite as riveting as the first, although it was still excellent and difficult to put down. More actually happened in the second half, but I loved learning about the setting and Agnieszka’s discovery of her magic (plus there were fewer scenes with the Dragon in the latter part of the book and I did miss seeing her interact with him).

Uprooted is a lovely book and is currently my favorite book of 2015 (and a new favorite book period!). I loved everything about it—the magic, the creepy Wood, the Dragon, Kasia, and especially Agnieszka and her narrative voice. It had me enthralled from start to finish and is a novel I can definitely see myself rereading in the future.

My Rating: 9.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews:

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration (often unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

There are two books to discuss this week since the third book that showed up has already been discussed here.

For book reviews, I’m currently working on reviewing Uprooted by Naomi Novik, which is my very favorite book of 2015 so far. When I first head about it, I thought it sounded like my type of book and this did indeed turn out to be the case!

On to this week’s books!

Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

This short story collection will be available on August 15 (trade paperback, ebook).  The complete table of contents from Falling in Love with Hominids can be viewed on the publisher’s website.

I really enjoyed Nalo Hopkinson’s novel Sister Mine and have been wanting to read more of her work so I’m quite curious about this one!

 

From the the groundbreaking author of the New York Times Notable Book Midnight Robber, comes over a dozen years of new, uncollected fiction.

Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring, The New Moon’s Arms) is an internationally-beloved storyteller. Hailed by the Los Angeles Times as having “an imagination that most of us would kill for,” her Afro-Caribbean, Canadian, and American influences shine in truly unique stories that are filled with striking imagery, unlikely beauty, and delightful strangeness.

In this long-awaited collection, Hopkinson continues to expand the boundaries of culture and imagination. Whether she is retelling The Tempest as a Caribbean myth, filling a shopping mall with unfulfilled ghosts, or creating chickens that occasionally breathe fire, Hopkinson continues to create bold fiction that transcends boundaries and borders.

The Promise of the Child by Tom Toner

The Promise of the Child (Amaranthine Spectrum #1) by Tom Toner

This space opera debut will be released in September in the US (hardcover) and November in the UK (paperback, ebook).

 

Lycaste is a lovesick recluse living in a forgotten Mediterranean cove who is renowned throughout the distorted people of the Old World for his beauty. Sotiris Gianakos is a 12,000-year-old Cypriote grieving the loss of his sister, a principled man who will change Lycaste’s life forever. Their stories, and others, become darkly entwined when Aaron the Longlife—the Usurper, a man who is not quite a man—makes a claim to the Amaranthine throne that threatens to throw the delicate political balance of the known galaxy into ruin.

The Promise of the Child is a stunning feat of imagination set against an epic backdrop ranging from 14th-century Prague, to a lonely cove near the Mediterranean Sea, to the 147th-century Amaranthine Firmament. Toner has crafted an intelligent space opera filled with gripping action and an emotional scale that is wonderfully intimate, a smart and compelling debut that calls to mind the best of Kim Stanley Robinson or M. John Harrison.

Book Description from Goodreads:

For years, Rafi Delarua saw his family suffer under his father’s unethical use of psionic power. Now the government has Rafi under close watch, but, hating their crude attempts to analyse his brain, he escapes to the planet Punartam, where his abilities are the norm, not the exception. Punartam is also the centre for his favourite sport, wallrunning – and thanks to his best friend, he has found a way to train with the elite. But Rafi soon realises he’s playing quite a different game, for the galaxy is changing; unrest is spreading and the Zhinuvian cartels are plotting, making the stars a far more dangerous place to aim. There may yet be one solution – involving interstellar travel, galactic power and the love of a beautiful game.

The Galaxy Game is supposed to be a standalone book set after Karen Lord’s 2013 novel The Best of All Possible Worlds, a nominee for the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and winner of the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. After reading both novels, I do not believe The Galaxy Game actually stands alone very well since it does reference past characters and events. Even though I’d read the previous book first, I found it difficult to keep track of some of the different characters and their past storylines after not having read it for a couple of years—so I would definitely not recommend reading this before The Best of All Possible Worlds (even aside from the fact that I much preferred the earlier novel).

The Galaxy Game was a 2015 book release I was particularly excited about because I very much enjoyed The Best of All Possible Worlds, which was simultaneously entertaining and thoughtful. There was never a dull moment, and Grace Delarua was a delightful first person narrator. Unfortunately, I didn’t think The Galaxy Game was nearly as compelling or well executed. It was a very disjointed novel with too many viewpoints for its length, and while it was not terrible and was occasionally interesting, it failed to remain engaging throughout.

First, the good parts: like the previous book, the novel’s strengths include its myths and cultures. The prologue includes the story of the creation of the First Four worlds and their inhabitants, and this part kept me riveted even though I’d read about it in the first book. Once this short section was over, it didn’t maintain my interest until Rafi arrived on the planet Punartum and began learning about this culture. There was a lot of telling in these sections as Rafi had much explained to him about this new place; however, it was still fascinating to read about this matriarchal society in which social credit and connections were vital. I also thought the author did an excellent job portraying the complexity of Punartum’s customs. While I never felt their culture was shown in a negative light, its disadvantages and sometimes negative impact on others did not go unremarked upon. These people could seem cold since kindness could come across as calculating and necessitating a favor in return, and those from outside worlds could find it very difficult to adjust to life on Punartum.

Regrettably, there was nothing else I felt was done particularly well. The writing was adequate, but I also never felt like it gave me a clear picture visually or great insight into the characters. The plot was meandering, and I think this was further hindered by showing too many perspectives for the length of the book. Some characters had very few sections compared to others and disappeared for awhile, only to return closer to the end. I didn’t feel that having so many perspectives added anything to the book since none of the characters were particularly well developed, and some of them seemed unnecessary to the story. There were seeds of interesting stories and characteristics, but they never grew into their full potential. The main character, Rafi, has strong psi powers, but he struggles with that side of himself since he doesn’t want to become like his father, who used these abilities to manipulate others. Yet it never delved into Rafi as a character enough for him to become realistic—he just seemed like a generic character with a type of internal conflict that is common in speculative fiction. None of the other characters are particularly vividly drawn, either. Even though the more major characters achieve a lot by the end, their accomplishments never seemed as impressive as they should have since I wasn’t invested in any of these characters.

All the perspectives are third person except for Rafi’s friend Ntenman’s, which was an odd choice. At first, I thought it was perhaps because he was more open and personable than the other characters, but if that were the case, I would have thought Grace Delaura’s perspective would have also been first person. His voice reminded me a little of hers in The Best of All Possible Worlds, and the book also acknowledged that the two had similar personalities so I could see no reason for using first person for only one of a half dozen characters.

While I do recommend The Best of All Possible Worlds, I would have preferred to spend my time reading one of the other many books I want to read instead of The Galaxy Game. The characters are flat, and without feeling connected to any of them, the grand events toward the end fail to have an impact. While there are occasional glimpses of brilliance, that’s part of what makes this book so disappointing: it contains the potential to be a great book but it never manages to develop into one.

My Rating: 5/10

Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt (click “Read an Excerpt” under the book cover)

Other Reviews:

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration (often unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

There are two books to discuss this week, including one of my most anticipated releases of the year!

Stories of the Raksura: Volume 2 by Martha Wells

Stories of the Raksura: Volume 2 by Martha Wells

This second volume of stories about the Raksura will be released on June 2 (trade paperback, ebook). It contains two novellas and three short stories. “The Dead City” is a novella about Moon before the beginning of the first novel. The novella “The Dark Earth Below” and the short stories “Mimesis” and “Trading Lesson” take place after the third novel. The short story “The Almost Last Voyage of the Wind-ship Escarpment” focuses on different characters in the same world.

I love the three novels in The Books of the Raksura (The Cloud Roads, The Serpent Sea, and The Siren Depths). The Three Worlds is a unique setting, and the main characters are quite endearing. I’m reading Stories of the Raksura: Volume 1 right now, and so far I’m enjoying that very much as well.

 

Moon, Jade, and other favorites from the Indigo Cloud Court return with two new novellas from Martha Wells.

Martha Wells continues to enthusiastically ignore genre conventions in her exploration of the fascinating world of the Raksura. Her novellas and short stories contain all the elements fans have come to love from the Raksura books: courtly intrigue and politics, unfolding mysteries that reveal an increasingly strange wider world, and threats both mundane and magical.

“The Dead City” is a tale of Moon before he came to the Indigo Court. As Moon is fleeing the ruins of Saraseil, a groundling city destroyed by the Fell, he flies right into another potential disaster when a friendly caravanserai finds itself under attack by a strange force. In “The Dark Earth Below,” Moon and Jade face their biggest adventure yet; their first clutch. But even as Moon tries to prepare for impending fatherhood, members of the Kek village in the colony tree’s roots go missing, and searching for them only leads to more mysteries as the court is stalked by an unknown enemy.

Stories of Moon and the shape changers of Raksura have delighted readers for years. This world is a dangerous place full of strange mysteries, where the future can never be taken for granted and must always be fought for with wits and ingenuity, and often tooth and claw. With these two new novellas, Martha Wells shows that the world of the Raksura has many more stories to tell…

The Gods of Laki by Chris Angus

The Gods of Laki by Chris Angus

The Gods of Laki will be available on June 9 (trade paperback with the audiobook scheduled for release in July).

 

From the author of Flypaper comes an adventure about mysterious underground volcanic forces and a savage plot to alter the Earth’s climate.

A race to unveil the secret of Laki, a volcano on the southern shores of Iceland, pits our heroes—a sixteen-year-old Viking girl from the tenth century, a German geologist from World War II, and a former Secret Service agent protecting a female volcanologist—against evil forces with a plan to cause an eruption using explosives, altering the global climate through the release and forcing the price of oil to skyrocket.

Everyone and everything on Laki is in danger, including the possibility of ever unraveling the mysteries of the place, as it faces burial beneath a carpet of lava flows. Caught underground by the fracturing physical breakup of Laki, everyone finds themselves ensnared by Laki itself—an unseen, implacable foe that seems everything but a benign presence. Every move they make appears to be guided and controlled by an intelligence that permeates the netherworld.

Only gradually, through all the conflict between the various factions, does everyone begin to realize that it is Laki itself that has always been in charge.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration (often unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

There’s only one book to discuss this week, but it’s one I’m very excited about!

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) by N. K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season will be released on August 4 (paperback, ebook). N. K. Jemisin’s other work includes the Inheritance trilogy (beginning with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms) and the Dreamblood duology (beginning with The Killing Moon), and she has received nominations for the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award. I absolutely loved The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, and The Killing Moon so I’ve been looking forward to this one ever since I first heard about it!

 

This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

Today I’m delighted to have a guest post written by Naomi Novik to share with you! She is the New York Times bestselling author of the Temeraire series, beginning with His Majesty’s Dragon, and her latest novel, a standalone titled Uprooted, is out today. Uprooted has been one of my most anticipated books of 2015 ever since I first heard about it, and while I haven’t quite finished reading it yet, I’ve loved the three quarters I have read. The writing, the main character, and the magic are all phenomenal, and I haven’t wanted to put it down—it’s been awhile since I read a book as compelling as Uprooted!

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Flow

My very favorite thing about writing — about almost any creative work — is the wonderful experience of falling into flow. You know flow if you’ve experienced it, that glorious mental state where you find yourself sailing through words or code or art almost effortlessly, often with an underlying sense of sure confidence that your work is going well, with no desire to stop working. Oddly, it’s not that work done in a state of flow is actually better — in my experience, the parts that come easy are indistinguishable from the parts that come hard. It’s that working in a state of flow is infinitely more fun. Flow makes work into pleasure. It’s a literal high, the drug of choice for workaholics.

I don’t really believe in writer’s block in the sense of a state you get stuck in where words just won’t come. But I do believe in writer’s block as an absence of flow. Flow is oddly fragile — it’s so easily wrecked by interruptions, anxieties. Especially if you are used to writing in flow — if you’ve only ever written from a place of pleasing yourself, writing something for the joy of it, something that you’re inspired to write — then when that flow won’t come, it can absolutely feel like a block, something in your way, the damming of a river. But instead of trying to figure out how to break out of writer’s block, I think we would be better served as writers by reframing the problem in a positive way: how to get into flow.

I don’t have a single answer for this myself. I’ve needed to find a new solution myself for almost every book I’ve written, as though I have to sneak up on my own brain. When I was working on Uprooted, I heavily used the pomodoro technique (a timed method of working in 25-minute slices at a time). I’ve used writing longhand, going to sit in a wifi-free cafe, and the delightfully named Write or Die app.

Each of those tricks got me through a tough patch of the book, where flow-killing interruptions proliferated. In my experience (and I’d really love to hear about your own, if you’ve found anything like this), the trick would get me a few days, a week or two, and after that flow would begin to start coming on its own — until the next interruption broke my stride, and I’d have to go back to the trick to get going again.

What’s interesting is the same trick doesn’t work more than once. I couldn’t seem to make myself start the timer, or go to the cafe, the next book around. Research on flow suggests that it requires regular new challenges — so maybe throwing yourself a new curveball of process may in fact be the kind of stimulus the brain needs to get there. Or giving yourself new work to do, working in a different medium — Rachel Hartman wrote here not long ago about how joining a singing group helped her unlock a writer’s block, and I’ve found that often swapping into a different story or doing some visual art for a while can help knock something loose in me.

What about all of you? Any ideas for finding flow? (I am hoping to save answers for my own future use!)

I also share this fanvid by lim, one of my favorites, a fabulous illustration of the addiction of flow (and the struggle of interruptions).

Naomi Novik
Photo Credit: Beth Gwinn

Naomi Novik is the acclaimed author of His Majesty’s Dragon, Throne of Jade, Black Powder War, Empire of Ivory, Victory of Eagles, Tongues of Serpents, Crucible of Gold, and Blood of Tyrants, the first eight volumes of the Temeraire series. She has been nominated for the Hugo Award and has won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, as well as the Locus Award for Best New Writer and the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel. She is also the author of the graphic novel Will Supervillains Be on the Final?
 
Fascinated with both history and legends, Novik is a first-generation American raised on Polish fairy tales and stories of Baba Yaga. Her own adventures include pillaging degrees in English literature and computer science from various ivory towers, designing computer games, and helping to build the Archive of Our Own for fanfiction and other fanworks. Novik is a co-founder of the Organization for Transformative Works.

She lives in New York City with her husband Charles Ardai, the founder of Hard Case Crime, and their daughter, Evidence, surrounded by an excessive number of purring computers.