“Uprooted” by Naomi Novik

Uprooted(Author: Naomi Novik) + (Year: 2015) + (Goodreads)


Review:

*** Mild spoilers ***

I’m soooo happy that this was my first book of the year. As ironic as it is, by reading Uprooted, I went back to my own roots of YA fantasy novels and it was so refreshing and felt so good. In other words, I like diversifying the literature genres I read, but a splash of magic makes everything just… better.

I assume many of you have already heard of Uprooted, or even read it, as it was one of the most talked about fantasy books of 2015/2016, but for those who haven’t I’d like to make a short recap, as to what this book is and what it represents.

Uprooted is the story of a small valley in the kingdom of Polnya, which for centuries has been tormented by an enchanted forest full of evil and corruption. To help the villagers of the valley fight the Wood, a wizard called the Dragon lives in a tower in the valley, and every 10 years takes one girl to serve him in the tower. The girl who gets chosen for the next 10 years, a wild, messy and stubborn creature called Agnieszka, finds out that there is so much more to the corruption of the Wood, and to the mysterious and scary Dragon, himself.

If you are Polish, or know anything about Poland, you’ve already seen something familiar in the names above – Agnieszka and Polnya; as well as Rosya, Marek, Kasia and almost every other character or geographical location from this book. Uprooted is based on Polish culture and old Polish stories, as well as loosely on the common Slavic heritage, such as the stories of Baba Jaga/Yaga, with whom my own (Bulgarian) mother was scaring me when I was little. The reason for these legends and cultural elements to find their place in this book is that Naomi Novik’s mother is Polish. However, as a fellow Slav, I felt a closeness to the stories from the book, the pastoral (or not so much) pictures of quiet (or not so much) remote villages, legends of dragons and witches, and kingdoms and wars.

Another thing that I really loved about this book was the general creepiness of it. At the very beginning, when the sides and villains were not clear, it was easy to be confused by where the real evil lies. But most of all, it was the fact that it could, at any moment, corrupt any given character, like a virus which spreads and everyone knows it’s there, but can’t stop it, that made me feel anxious and almost disturbed.

While I didn’t necessarily hate any character in the book, Agnieszka was one of those that I groaned at the most. Everything about her, from the way characters, and even she herself, described her, to the capacity she had of doing amazing things – at some point, it just stopped adding up. At the beginning all the characters expressed time and again that she was not very beautiful (if the opposite), and then somewhere at the middle everyone was thought to be in love with her for her looks, and not for her talent or personality. She was the youngest to be added to the list of wizards and witches, but WHY? What made her more different and talented than the rest?

“But I had no room in my head for bees, or roses, or spying; no room for anything but magic, the raw torrent of it and his hand my only rock, except he was being tumbled right along with me.”

tumblr_ocu9grjivf1vevsrno1_500

As for the Dragon, I was curious and excited to read more, however, I didn’t find it fully convincing and satisfactory. Not much was said about him ultimately, and the only real stories of his past seemed to be there only to give him a past, and not because they were essential to the story. So for me, many questions remained. Most of all, why did he take only girls? Once you’ve read the book, you’d probably have an easier time understanding what I mean. But honestly…

I loved the story of the Wood, though. It was not as convoluted as another author might have made it, but in simplicity I found a comfort. It was clear but scary in how simple it was. Without going into serious spoilers, I could not explain in detail what I really liked about it, but there were some characters that I found very unsettling and at the same time, very logical on a completely human level.

Despite my questions, and especially the ending, which was more open than I hoped, I’m more than very glad that I read Uprooted, and I can completely, hands down, join the hype about it.

“Ten Thousand Skies Above You” by Claudia Gray

Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird, #2)

(Author: Claudia Gray) + (Year: 2015) + (Goodreads)


Review:

*** 3.5 stars ***

I read the first book of this series last year: A Thousand Pieces of You. I admit, I was pleasantly surprised. Then coming to this second installment, I did not know how to feel. Yes, sure, the first book offered good grounds for a second one, but series often tend to disappoint. And proof to the fact is that I was disappointed by Ten Thousand Skies Above You.

The simplest explanation is that I just couldn’t get into it. Something felt off the entire time. Blah-blah-blah-splintered-souls-blah-blah-I’m-the-perfect-traveler-blah-blah-Paul-Paul-Paul-Theo? That is honestly the best summary I can give you. The thing is, and I wrote about this last time, too, no matter how they try to sell you the Firebird series, ultimately it is a romance. If you have come searching for sci-fi, you will not get it, most of all, because the main character and narrator, Marguerite, simply has no idea what is happening. She does not understand the scientific part of the Firebird project, she only knows that she is perfect and she will mention it in every chapter, lest you forget.

Also, there is romance and there is sappy-soulmates-forever-you-are-my-destiny romance. This is the latter. It was not as obvious in the first novel because they were still setting the grounds for this. But I cannot tell you how many times in Ten Thousand Skies Above You Marguerite managed to decide that destiny and fate exist, that there is such a thing as soulmates and that Paul is hers… but is he? Every couple of chapters she would have the same inner monologue and present it like it is the first time the reader has to read this boring mutterings of an annoying artsy-fartsy high-schooler who thinks she is the smartest person to ever live. She isn’t. I think that even the author got fed up with her by the end of the book:

“Then I realize how stupid we’ve been not to guess that another dimension was in on it…(I will skip some of the spoilers here). We should have known that from the beginning. Because Triad means three.”

And not long after:

“Romola gives me an odd look. “The name of the company has nothing to do with dimensions. How could it?”

Hahahahaah. Oh, Romola, give her a break, she thought she is brilliant.

Basically it was Marguerite that annoyed me the most in this book. She was very childish, indecisive and over-praised. Actual serious events were dismissed while tiny details were blown out of proportion for the sake of her tantrums. Nah.

What I did like about the book was the setting and Claudia Gray’s creativity when it comes to world building. I enjoyed exploring the dimensions, despite the fact that I had no warm feelings toward the narrator. I found the small differences, the big ones, the giant ones, very interesting to follow, even though they raised some questions for me.

For example, one can see how a world could be just slightly different, instead of tPhone there would be an iPhone and so on. But how do you logically assume that at the same time, let’s say 2016, there would be a dimension where people would still be living in conditions similar to the Roman empire. I am not challenging the book as much as asking a legitimate question. Which or how many events would have had to happen differently in order for the Roman empire to not only survive 100 or 200 years more, but two thousand years more?

“Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe” by Brian Lee O’Malley

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe (Scott Pilgrim, #5)

(Author: Brian Lee O’Malley) + (Year: 2009) + (Goodreads)


Review:

This volume felt more serious and kind of depressing in comparison to the others and I think the reason for that was the idea that things need to get worse before they get better. In a nutshell.

I also thought that here we saw more mature themes and more sexual innuendo than in the previous volumes and most of all, worse moments for both main characters. This was a defining volume for Ramona as a character and I really pitied her in the bedroom scene. Scott is always pitiful but in a comic and “make the best out of it” way, while  the same does not apply to Ramona usually.

Nevertheless, I think volume 5 was focused less on the group of characters and more on setting the mindset for the final volume and especially, getting everyone in their places for the final stand.

That, obviously, meant many characters leaving and Scott ending up in a pretty bad situation, but that is also the charm of him as a character, he gets himself out of hard situations. Having mentioned that, there is not much more that I can add to this review, because I really saw the entire volume 5 as “setting the ducks in a row”, which might have taken something from the overall idea of the volume, but it arrived at the right places for the final book. Even the villains were setting ground for the one big ex, Gideon, whose appearance I was really looking forward to and we finally almost approached.

“Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together” by Brian Lee O’Malley

Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (Scott Pilgrim, #4)

(Author: Brian Lee O’Malley) + (Year: 2007) + (Goodreads)


Review:

The tendency of me liking Ramona started only in volume 3 and in this one I am already a fan. My main issue with her was the fact that I simply dislike over-idealized characters but as the story unfolds she becomes more and more human and normal. A proof to that is the fact that details were actually provided about her. Like her age…

I liked the Lisa storyline because I was actually curious about her. I love it how the Scott Pilgrim series are not even trying to be mysterious as horror or superhero books do and yet they leave some question marks which, however, get resolved when the time is right and not important issue is just left like that.

This book presents my least favourite evil ex, but it is good in other ways. I absolutely loved the scene where Ramona made Scott hide in her bag. Seriously, COME ON, it’s hilarious. I love her. (I can’t believe I said that.) And the death of the evil ex (I’m treading carefully, give me credit) was also funny, a bit of a contradiction to the apparent seriousness of Scott getting the sword.

Wallace, though. I don’t like Wallace. I know he is one of the biggest sources for humor, but he is not my type of character. He is kind of mean and snotty with his entire behaviour, and yet he is presented as the person that just about cares about Scott the most.

“Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness” by Brian Lee O’Malley

Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness (Scott Pilgrim, #3)

(Author: Brian Lee O’Malley) + (Year: 2006) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Oh, Scott Pilgrim, always stay cool. Oh wait, I already finished all the volumes and… yes, you are always cool.

This volume picked up speed from the normal story because the big reveal about Envy finally arrived. I had been wondering about her since the first volume because all of the times she was kind of mentioned were pointing obviously to her importance.

I really enjoyed the back story in volume 3 and seeing Scott kind of functioning… once. Don’t worry, Scott. I sometimes feel like I am you. It’s okay, buddy.

Envy was definitely annoying. That much should be clear. But she was by far the most original female character in the series as far as looks go – if you have any doubts, look at all of the others, they all look kind of alike, even though one of them is nerdy, one is uber cool and another one is Asian. I’m talking about the three girls that are always there. Ramona changes her hair color from time to time, sure, but what about the black and white version? I liked Envy’s looks, even though they were as painfully and as cringe-worthily as everything else obviously from the 2000s in the series.

I liked the little twist with the two exes to respectively Scott and Ramona, and Todd was probably the most hilarious ex, without trying to be such, of course. The entire idea about his power of veganism was brilliant.

And last, but not least, considering how Ramona was always the pillar of calm and collected behaviour, this was the first volume in which I felt some pity for her, because she is just as messed up as Scott is, but better at hiding it. I liked watching her fight it off with Envy, because that was her first serious sign that she really likes Scott.