Naomi Novik is the Diana Gabaldon of historical fantasy; a hugely skilled writer with fans across the globe, most famous for a series that started decades ago but which is still going strong. Known for her epic history-but-with-dragons saga Temeraire, if you don’t feel like committing to such a long series just yet, Uprooted could be the perfect book for you. I’d heard great things about Uprooted long before release, and when I was lucky enough to snag an advance review copy, I couldn’t wait to get reading.
For fans of Rosamund Hodge and Robin Hobb, Uprooted has an almost fairytale-like quality to it. Clearly inspired by European folk tales, this book draws on their magic and mystery from start to finish. Key to that mystery is The Dragon, who let's just say is quite different from Novik’s usual reptilian fare of the same title, and who may be a divisive figure even among fans of the book. The plot isn’t as original as it could be, but then that’s not really the point of Uprooted; it’s a study in all things fairy tale, and focuses on bringing lesser-heard legends into the light.
Uprooted is a lyrical, quiet, and intense glimpse into a style of fantasy that somehow feels elegant and dreamlike despite the dark seriousness of the story. Steadily paced and beautifully written, it’s an enchanting exploration of superstition, secrets and what it means to be human. Thrilling chases and shocking revelations are enhanced by a tremendously creepy atmosphere and the feeling that something ominous lurks in the shadows, just waiting to strike.
For me, the book was probably too steady, as it lacks the addictive spark and outright danger of books like The Kiss of Deception. It’s quite a long book – when I first read the ARC I thought I’d somehow ended up with a hardback – and it’s not exactly light reading, so despite the age of some of the cast, it’s more of an adult book than YA. The romance was more than a little problematic and I didn’t connect with the characters as much as I’d hoped to, but it wraps up well and is a very complete adventure.
In short: Uprooted isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely worth picking up if you’re looking for a fantasy that feels a little different this year.
Published May 21st 2015 by Macmillan.
I’d been looking forward to reading Talon ever since I first heard about it, and finally snapped up a copy just before its follow-up Rogue was published earlier this year. I had high expectations for the book - for its characters, history, mythology and world-building - but unfortunately it let me down. Nothing reads bestseller like one of the biggest names in American YA turning her hand to deception, drama and, best of all, dragons - but when push comes to shove, writing is what makes or breaks a book, and while there’s huge potential to Talon, it’s not written in a way that makes the most of those incredible possibilities.
2015 has been a fantastic year for lush, sharp fantasy – just look at the success of A Court of Thorns and Roses and An Ember in the Ashes – but Talon has none of that courage. It should be sweeping and addictive, not bland and uninspiring. The dragons of Talon are – there’s no other word for it – tame. It’s not just because they can take human form, either. Perhaps because we’ve all become used to the ferocity of the dragons in Game of Thrones, or simply because there are better dragon books out there already but for me, there was no mystique, no danger and no fierceness. Talon is the first novel in a planned series, but I won’t be reading the sequels.
Talon lurks somewhere between contemporary and urban fantasy, and somehow manages to lack the spirit and grit of both. It reminded me of those awful paranormal romances which took over YA a few years back, and that’s definitely not a good thing for a book to be associated with. I wasn’t a fan of the romance and while the characters may grow on you, for me it was too little, too late.
In short: Talon is a novel that starts with huge potential, but never finds the spark of brilliance it needs.
Published January 15th 2015 by Mira Ink.
Afterworlds is an attention-grabbing novel. It wasn't quite a five star read for me as it needed more heart and emotion, but I can see why it's been acclaimed the world over. It's twisted and risky, enveloping two stories (and two completely different tenses) into one novel with breath-taking efficiency. It's gritty, unusual and has a touch of dystopia; it's the kind of book that could only have come from a big hitter like Scott Westerfield.
Told in alternating perspectives, Afterworlds is the story of two girls - a teenage author, and the protagonist she's written. I loved writer Darcy's narrative. As she moves to the Big Apple to pursue her dreams, her chatty, detailed style flows from the start. It's surprisingly fun and she’s definitely a character you can root for. I adored the diversity of her story and it’s an example all YA writers could easily follow. Darcy knows what she wants and how she’s going to get it — but there are more than a few spanners thrown into the works and her story keeps a sharp focus on character development throughout.
In contrast, Lizzie’s half of the book is a source of much-needed excitement and action. Unfortunately I wasn’t as invested in her story, which hampered my ability to enjoy the tension and danger of the opening sequence and overshadowed the rest of my reading experience. Ultimately the book wasn't engaging, and doesn't stand out: readers want books that jump out from the shelf, and Afterworlds, despite its premise, fails to live up to expectations.
In short: Afterworlds is well-written, but I can’t say I really enjoyed it, so it gets three stars from me.
Published September 25th 2014 by Simon & Schuster Childrens Books.