This year’s Nebula for Best Novel (and Hugo nominee) went to Naomi Novik’s faerie tale about a wizard’s apprentice and an evil forest.
The novel succeeds at being what you expect from that description, and not being what you expect at all.
Author: Naomi Novik
First published in May 2015
A wizard with an ambiguous reputation takes his latest assistant from the village, a young girl who turns out to be a witch. She’s going to need her powers; Russia and Poland are moving towards war, and dark forces in a haunted woods are spreading.
Profoundly flawed heroes face a forest filled with corrupt wisdom, corrupting plants, and giant insectoids, while trying to keep human conflict from distracting them from more serious problems. The novel’s central, complex dilemma belies its faerie-tale origins. How does one fight an adversary of this nature? You can’t just chop of a Forest’s head. And while it’s no more an allegory than Lord of the Rings, strip away the magical elements, and the heroes’ problems– facing a potentially all-encompassing threat while encumbered by their own limitations and the idiotic belligerence of others– sound like our own.
The explanation of the Wood’s history, and the more-or-less final encounter with the force behind it, is a little rushed and slightly confused.
Originality: 3/6 We have a sorcerer’s apprentice scenario in a medieval faerie-tale world, and a quest against encroaching evil. However, we also have eastern European mythology and some really odd inventions of the author, a focus on female characters, and a grimly realistic look at the “sword” part of the Sword and Sorcery genre. Novik’s premise and characters are derivative, but she shapes the material in unexpected ways.
Story: 5/6 Novik fleshes out the faerie tale setting and premise into something complex and strangely believable. Some will find the introductory portions a little slow-moving.
Characterization: 5/6 Agniezska is a complex characters, and others have been developed plausibly. Some fairly important characters are loosely sketched.
Emotional Response: 5/6 You may not approve of the central relationship, and you may not like where the war scenes go, but they’re entirely in keeping with human behavior.
Overall score: 5/6 Uprooted is medieval fantasy that leans towards YA1, and yet it will appeal to those who read neither.
In total, Uprooted receives 34/42
1. The novel features a (comparatively tasteful) sex scene, but that’s becoming a new norm in YA.