The shorter of this review is: The novel was thematically indiscriminate and inappropriately old-fashioned, and Novik seemed to have no control over the mechanism of the story — but I am always #dtf wizards. Here's the longer:
[AND OBVIOUSLY THERE ARE A GREAT MANY SPOILERS]
I have the same problem with Uprooted that I had with Novik's very successful genre franchise Temeraire/
This fills me with a mindless, igneous rage.2
Uprooted is more subversive even than that, though! It hides behind the same lopsided romanticization of a familiar elsewhere, but instead of occupying itself with various babyish wargames it attempts, among other objectionable goals, to equate goodness with guilelessness.
Begin at the beginning: Uprooted is a genre romance novel, sort of; looked at dispassionately, it's just a slightly dirty fanfiction dedicated to the popular pairing The Great Magician/Nerdy Female Reader. The novel's love object is a wizard called "the Dragon" (lol), who is mostly just a more athletic version of Snape, but tethered to the mystical architecture of Luthe the Mage-Master (we have discussed Luthe elsewhere) (if you don't know him, you should contrive to meet him forthwith) (basically Luthe is just a less-scary version of Galadriel) (but with a penis) (he self-reports a penis) and with a few elements of Howl stuck onto the back end of him to make the novel's conclusion look bittersweet and strange. And maybe also some Chrestomanci? The Dragon isn't as glamorous as Chrestomanci, for certain, but he shares that character's enthusiasm for dressing like Liberace. The much-less-interesting heroine is an amalgam of Hermione, Sophie, and, as I mentioned earlier, the Reader. I began to have some real trouble with the story because of this character, whose name is
The novel's plot is this —
In a fake version of feudal Poland, some shitty little rural towns are perpetually menaced by an evil enchanted Wood that ruins the people's crops and food animals and turns them intermittently into homicidal maniacs, by means of an impenetrable magic. Therefore, there are wizards. This one wizard collects girls, but he lets them go later, and on one special occasion he chooses to collect the novel's narrator instead of her importantly pretty friend. The wizard is very mean to the narrator, and doses her with invalidating insults at every encounter, while also saving the lives of the poor farmers that live around his castle. The narrator haphazardly performs tasks of domestic servitude for the wizard, while constantly and silently monologuing about how boring and ordinary she is, and how everything that happens to her is frightening in one way or another. It looks for awhile like the wizard has apprenticed the narrator in vain, because she sucks at magic — but later, after some scary things happen, it turns out that the narrator is actually really great at magic, because she has Feelings and also understands the tiny lives of the poor/the whispers of the wind. Suddenly the narrator's pretty friend has been eaten by the evil Wood! The narrator saves her, with Feelings, but the pretty friend is now a superhero. This is presented as a minor tragedy. Also there's a handsome and bellicose prince, who is both rapey and transiently villainous (he represents Toxic Masculinity) (much different from the masculinity practiced by the Dragon, which is 100% legit). Subsequently, many dumb and confusing events occur; they are all boring. The narrator is, for various reasons, forced to go to the City all by herself, where she finds that literally everyone is small-hearted, superficial, and vicious. They laugh at her because she's boring and ordinary and lived on a farm. This is presented as a tragedy of colossal proportions. Then the narrator realizes she loves the wizard, sort of, and other confusing and complicated things happen. They too are boring. The narrator, who has inexplicably become a powerful magician, goes back home and has sex with the wizard, but she is sad because he doesn't have Feelings, not like she does. There's an epic, unusual battle between the forces of Good and Evil, and then a long denouement which is not super-consistent in either its tone or structure. The reader learns the secret of the evil Wood. It is one million times more interesting than the rest of the book. Then there is a happy ending, for certain questionable definitions of the words "happy" and "ending."