Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Review: Uprooted by Naomi NovikUprooted by Naomi Novik
Published by Pan Macmillan on 2015-05-21
Pages: 310
Genres: High Fantasy
Source: Received for review from publishers
Add to Goodreads
Rating:

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, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood's powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost 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 no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him. From the author of the Temeraire series comes this hugely imaginative, engrossing and vivid fantasy novel, inspired by folk and fairy tales. It is perfect reading for fans of Robin Hobb and Trudi Canavan.

Thoughts: I was ecstatic to find Uprooted in my mailbox. I am a massive, massive fan of Novik’s Temeraire (read my glowing review here) and was very excited to see what she would produce outside of that universe.

Which is appropriate, considering what dominated Uprooted was the universe Novik created. It was dark, twisted and disconcerting in a way I’ve yet to experience. Instead of a single villain, Agnieszka and the Dragon faced off against a… feeling. The Wood was the literal representation of decay and infection, while still appearing as a lush, beautiful life-form. It was a bit difficult for me to wrap my brain around, because it was so foreign… and in a way, that’s what also made it so scary.

The Wood drove this story, more so than the principal characters. And because of that, Uprooted refused to be one “type” of story. It wasn’t just a semi-Stockholm Syndrome romance, or a girl-discovers-her-powers YA novel, or a high fantasy fight-against-evil… it was all of those things distorted by the overbearing threat of the Wood. So expect twists and turns, and don’t ever, ever get too comfortable.

Character-wise, while I can’t say I was overly emotionally invested in Agnieszka, Kasia or the Dragon, I really appreciated how they were handled. The Dragon was an angry, mean man – but one who was trying to do the right thing. Kasia and Agnieszka, meanwhile, had one of the most genuine female friendships I’ve ever read. They loved each other, but they also had their own problems. When jealously and hurt reared their heads, instead of breaking apart, they acknowledged the issues and didn’t let them get in the way. It was masterfully done.

Bottom line? Uprooted is a supremely unique novel, set in a universe I can guarantee you’ve never been to. If you’re suffering from genre fatigue, Uprooted will leave you uplifted.

Novel vs TV series: A Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones TV PosterOK, so I am one of those fans. One of the fans who picked up the A Song of Fire and Ice series after watching the HBO series based on the books, Game of Thrones (hereafter known as HBO!GoT). Yep, I’m one of those.
And so instead of giving you your standard “OMG, this book is amazing” review (this book has been out for 15 years, there are a lot of them out there), I am doing something absolutely dreadful instead… I am comparing the show with the book!
Horrified? I know – but I’m dastardly that way.

Be warned, there are significant spoilers ahead! If you have either read the book or seen the show, you’ll be fine. If you’ve done neither, then just get to it already!

Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

HBO!GoT / Librarything /Goodreads

Show Summary: You win or you die.

Book Summary: Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective wall. To the south, the King’s powers are failing, and his enemies are emerging from the shadows of the throne. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the frozen land they were born to. Now Lord Eddard Stark is reluctantly summoned to serve as the King’s new Hand, an appointment that threatens to sunder not only his family but also the kingdom itself.

Three things a HBO!GoT fan should know before starting the book:

  1. You will love it, because it is pretty much exactly the same as the show: I was stunned by how closely HBO stuck to the novels. I knew that all of the main plot elements had been included, but it is so much more than that. I’d say about 90% of the dialogue that is in the show is also in the book.
  2. All of the main characters are about 10 years younger in the novel. Yup, that’s right. A Game of Thrones is a lot more risque than its HBO counterpart. Dany is only 13 when her brother hands her off to the Dothraki. While it works in the book and is historically realistic, I really don’t think I could have watched that.
  3. The book is over 1000 pages long. I don’t want you to be put off by that, but it’s the truth. I don’t want anyone to think that A Game of Thrones is a short read – it’s not. It really really is not!

Game of Thrones by George R R MartinThree things I preferred the HBO interpretation of:

  1. Catelyn Stark. I had genuinely liked Catelyn in HBO!GoT. She wasn’t my favourite character, but she clearly had Stark qualities to her that made me warm to her. She didn’t sit to the sidelines, but neither did she try to jump in the driver’s seat. But book!Catelyn I very nearly loathe. How can I put it in a way fans will understand… there’s just not much of the North in that woman. She treats Jon 100 times worse than she does on the show, not to mention her inability to understand honour, justice and those other fantastic Stark qualities.
  2. The scenery. While I realise television has the clear advantage in this field, I found myself missing the beautiful landscapes and the gorgeous castles. George R.R. Martin isn’t all that big on descriptive writing about scenery, so while some places were extremely well described (the Wall and the Dothraki plains, for example), others had almost no description at all (King’s Landing).
  3. The Lannisters. HBO!GoT gives the Lannisters a bit more context – they aren’t necessarily my favourite group of people (*strangles Joffery*) but there were times when I genuinely felt for Cersei and Jamie. But in the books? They are the very definition of evil. Evil. Evil. Evil. And while I am certainly Team Stark, I would have liked to have seen a bit more Lannister in the book.

Three things I loved from the book which didn’t really translate onto the screen:

  1. Bran and the three-eyed crow. While HBO!GoT really did try to bring these scenes to life on the screen, they really didn’t make much sense. Mostly because, in the book, the crow actually speaks to Bran. And the truth of the matter is that talking animals never really work on TV.
  2. Jon Snow. While I certainly liked Jon in the television show, he did seem rather whiney. If anything, the younger novel version of him seemed much more adult than the actual adult that played him!
  3. How genuinely sweet Joffery was to Sansa. Even though Joffery is the anti-christ, there were times in the book when he seemed to actually like Sansa… none of that came through in HBO!GoT. It’s a real shame since it makes Sansa’s obsession with the evil blonde twit understandable.

One thing I really wish the show had included:

  1. How utterly unimportant Theon Grey is to Robb Stark. HBO!GoT turns Theon into Robb’s best friend and, considering how loathsome I find him, I was pleasantly surprised to see that this was not the case in the books. Maybe their relationship develops further in the later novels, but in A Game of Thrones they are most certainly not BFFs. *shakes fist*

Bottom line? There is a reason this book has so many fans: it’s brilliant. Go forth and purchase.

Review: Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

Review: Throne of Jade by Naomi NovikThrone of Jade by Naomi Novik
Series: Temeraire #2
Published by Harper Voyager
Genres: High Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
Add to Goodreads
Rating:
Also in this series: Temeraire

When Britain intercepted a French ship and its precious cargo–an unhatched dragon’s egg–Capt. Will Laurence of HMS Reliant unexpectedly became master and commander of the noble dragon he named Temeraire. As new recruits in Britain’s Aerial Corps, man and dragon soon proved their mettle in daring combat against Bonaparte’s invading forces.

Now China has discovered that its rare gift, intended for Napoleon, has fallen into British hands–and an angry Chinese delegation vows to reclaim the remarkable beast. But Laurence refuses to cooperate. Facing the gallows for his defiance, Laurence has no choice but to accompany Temeraire back to the Far East–a long voyage fraught with peril, intrigue, and the untold terrors of the deep. Yet once the pair reaches the court of the Chinese emperor, even more shocking discoveries and darker dangers await.

Thoughts: I don’t usually start a sequel straight after reading the first book – especially if I adored said first book.  I like to savour the series I love by spreading them across months, and sticking mediocre books in between the gems. So, that I started Throne of Jade right after reading Temeraire is a tribute to the awesomeness of Naomi Novik.

However.

Yep, there’s a big fat “however”. You see, Throne of Jade? It’s just nowhere near as amazing as Temeraire.  For starters, the novel is bizarrely balanced.  I’d say about 3/4 of the novel is spent getting to China – and then the rest is a huge mishmash of action set in Beijing. While this is realistic timescale-wise, it did not make for the most entertaining of books. That said, it’s not as if the novel would have been better if it had been set entirely in China. I didn’t enjoy a minute of the time spent in Beijing – someone scratch Imperial China off my time-travel holiday list.

On top of that, I had some rather serious issues with the relationship between Temeraire and Laurence. For all his supposed genius, Temeraire acted like such a spoiled child in this book. And Laurence? He spent the entire book desperately pandering to Temeraire’s whims. I could forgive Laurence, but Temeraire… just… guh! *strangles dragon* He could get so bloody self-involved! I really do hope that he matures by the next book.

Throne of Jade also lacked the brilliant aerial fleet. We get only a few brief scenes with the gang at the start of the novel, and then they are left behind in Europe. They are some of the best characters in the verse (especially pseudo-love interest and kick-ass dragon rider extraordinaire Jane) and their absence was keenly felt. I’m hoping for a lot more of them in the next book.

Bottom line? A mediocre episode in an excellent series. Nevertheless, Naomi Novik novels = The Bee’s Knees.

Review: Temeraire by Naomi Novik

Review: Temeraire by Naomi NovikTemeraire by Naomi Novik
Series: Temeraire #1
Published by Harper Voyager
Pages: 352
Genres: High Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
Add to Goodreads
Rating:
Also in this series: Throne of Jade

When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes its precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Capt. Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future–and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

Thoughts: This book was absolutely, positively lovely. It’s elegantly written, in that detached-yet-emotional style I’d attribute to Jane Austen (in other words, Novik adopts a style that ordinarily makes me yawn). But, despite the style, this novel really really worked for me. Novik doesn’t go out of her way with flowery text – instead she keeps true to the Napoleonic period she is writing in, and allows the characters to speak for themselves.

And what characters. Laurence is not exactly the warm and cuddly type. His strict, rule-abiding nature (along with his tendency to be outraged by the slightest breach in protocol) at first made him rather hard to relate to. He is a product of his environment – a symbol of the age, and whatnot. But as he grows closer to his dragon Temeraire and meets the fascinating cast of characters that make up the Bristish aerial fleet, he starts to loosen that stiff upper-lip of his. It was wonderful to see him come loose, while keeping all the gentlemanly qualities with which he was raised.

I also loved the aerial fleet. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but I had been afraid that they would be the same upper-crust and bigoted types that made up Britain’s historic armies. That’s one of my main problems with historical war novels – even though I know they are depicting things in a certain way in order to be historically accurate, that doesn’t make it PC. Novik had the advantage of being able to logically insert a more “modern” group of armed forces into history.

But what really carries this book is the bond between Laurence and his dragon Temeraire. It is an extraordinary, beautiful relationship that made me gush more than any romance could have. It’s a difficult relationship to describe, as Novik’s dragons aren’t pets but neither are they “equals” to the humans that become their captains. Since they can speak, they can become a captain’s best-friend as well as their constant companion. There’s little room for family or relationships when you captain a dragon, yet you would want for nothing.

I found myself thinking about this book whenever I wasn’t reading it. Imagining what the characters were getting up to, and dreaming of their future endeavors. It was a rare pleasure.

Bottom line? If you’re looking for detailed fantasy/alternative-history novel, Novik is a must. If you’re looking for a fantastic novel about dragons, Novik is a must. If you’re literate, Novik is a must. Just don’t be put off by the formal style!

Review: Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder

Review: Magic Study by Maria V. SnyderMagic Study by Maria V. Snyder
Series: Study #2on 2012-08-15
Pages: 400
Genres: High Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
Add to Goodreads
Rating:
Also in this series: Poison Study, Shadow Study

Yelena is a survivor. Kidnapped as a child, held prisoner as a teen, then released to act as a poison taster, she is now a student of magic. But these magic skills place her in imminent danger, and with an execution order on her head, she has no choice but to escape to Sitia, the land of her birth.

But nothing in Sitia is familiar. As she struggles to understand where she belongs and how to control her powers, a rogue magician emerges and Yelena catches his eye. Suddenly she is embroiled in a situation not of her making. And once again her magical abilities will either save her life or be her downfall.

Despite the turmoil, she's eager to start her magic training especially as she's been given one year to harness her power or be put to death. But her plans take a radical turn when she becomes involved with a plot to reclaim Ixia's throne for a lost prince and gets entangled in powerful rivalries with her fellow magicians.

If that wasn't bad enough, it appears her brother would love to see her dead. Luckily, Yelena has some old friends to help her with all her new enemies.

Thoughts: I absolutely adored Magic Study – this series is definite must!

We are introduced to the diverse, magical world of Sitia – and God is it an amazing place! I am not usually a verse-lover, but Snyder has a way of changing my mind. She also manages to incorporate a few subtle messages about poverty in a capitalist society – there’s no preaching, but she does use the fantasy world to make a point or two about our own society. It’s old school and totally made me smile.

Snyder manages to introduce a variety of different cultures and locations without bogging the book down with information. Same goes for the characters – although there were a lot of new faces, it was never overwhelming.

Luckily, Valek did manage to make his way into the book. I’d been worried about him, and although he is not as central to the plot as he was in Poison Study, he was equally as amazing. Seriously, this man gives me tingles.  *sighs* As for Yelena, she now officially joins Mercy (from the Patricia Briggs Series) as a female lead whose judgement I actually trust.  And that I like her is a lovely bonus.

Bottom line?  The Study Series is a must read!  The quality has been consistent as the series goes on – which is a rare gift nowadays. I’d recommend this to everyone I know – romance readers, literary fiction readers, mystery lovers, fantasy addicts… anyone and everyone!

Cover note:  The US have stunning adult trade paperbacks – which I have included in my reviews, even though I can’t seem to get my hands on any of them.  The series has quite a few editions, and Snyder has conveniently posted all the covers on her site so that you can choose your favourite.  ♥
Page 1 of 212