Naomi Novik: Uprooted

Read by Julia Emelin

This is 3 for 3 for my book match from @bklynlibrary. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each one I’ve listened to so far. Uprooted was so engaging that I sacrificed precious writing time to continue listening to it. Yet another story where language is a focus, this time Polish, it seems.

The story is narrated by Agnieszka, the main character, who lives in a place where a girl is taken and devoured by a dragon every ten years. The only thing is that the dragon is not actually a dragon, he’s a wizard and he doesn’t devour them, he just keeps them. There are many songs, stories, and rumors in the villages about what happens to the girls while they’re there, but no one really knows. But it is through Agnieszka that we kind of find out.

It’s “kind of” because Agnieszka is a calamity-prone girl who throws The Dragon’s–aka Sarkan–routine off the rails. The journey towards a mutual understanding and mild irritation between them is filled with magic and wars and castles and old stories and dark doings and frustration and love and friendship and revenge. I loved the building of the relationship between Agnieszka and Sarkan. He, a master wizard, was so inflexible and so precise and she, a village girl who had lived her life climbing trees and becoming one with the dirt, was so full of emotion and everything about her was so organic that they clashed at nearly every turn.

What I liked is that rather than her “changing” him, Sarkan comes to realize for himself that, regardless of what he’s been practicing for the last century plus, Agnieszka’s magic works differently. He doesn’t change his, but he grows to accept hers. What I also liked is that he never truly comes to understand it. In fact, no one does, not even Agnieszka, really. She’s all “what ifs” and feeling, so it usually worked out to her benefit, but pretty much everything she did was an experiment.

All the spells, incantations, cantrips, and summonings were spoken in Polish. I appreciated this very much. Something else I appreciated that a lot of other people didn’t seem to was that the reader, Julie Emelin, read with a Polish accent. People complained about the accent being thick and how choppy and unpracticed her reading was (mostly at the beginning) but, I didn’t see it that way. In the beginning the reading is choppy and unpracticed, but it’s not flat. It matches the tone of the story–the uncertainty, the fear, the unfamiliarity, the presentiment of great change.

In the beginning, Agnieszka’s words are spoken as if she knows what she wants to say, but English isn’t her first language, so she’s hesitant, always feeling them out as she speaks. And that’s what the beginning of the story is; Agnieszka has lived in her familiar village and valley with the familiar ways of its people for all of her 17(?) years and though she knew the day of the choosing would come, it is still unfamiliar and frightening. As the story goes on, her accent remains, but her words flow more steadily. She’s still the girl from the village, unsure of a lot of things, but even though she’s in a situation she never thought she would be in, eventually things begin to come into focus. The general unknown begins to take shape and separate into various vaguely knowns whose edges and surfaces begin to de-pixelate to wavering degrees. This is the story. And I loved it.

Five down, 47~ to go.

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