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02 January 2016 @ 11:44 am
2016 reading  
I have been meaning for some years to keep a list of books I read at LJ. In all likelihood I will get three entries in and then be hopelessly distracted by something else, but I'll give it a stab! Possibly another stab, this seems a very familiar caveat ;-)

2016 Book 1 Uprooted by Naomi Novik, reread, on Kindle.
Perfect holiday fodder, it's a satisfyingly long quasi-fairytale, in which village girl Agnieszka is unexpectedly taken by their local wizard into a decade-long period of indenture – he chooses a new girl seemingly based on personal taste in a ceremony held once every ten years. Everyone has long assumed her best friend Kasia will be the choice: she's beautiful, brave and talented. What she isn't is magical. And so Agnieszka is taken from her loving family and pressed into service in the fight against the encroachment of the magical and malevolent Wood.

Genuinely creepy and exciting in turns, I thoroughly enjoyed this the first time I read it and did so again yesterday having a New Year lurgy day where we sat in the park with bottles of cold water and pillows and read while lorikeets squawked at us and peewees hopped over to see if we were up to anything interesting. Back home, I stayed up far too late just to finish it.

The Dragon, the powerful wizard who takes the girls, is shown to be strong but not awful right fom the start. The awful part of their fate is never feeling at home again, never being able to go back to their villages once they have spent ten years in the service of a man who – and they all say he never touches them, but… wag the tongues – has the wealth of a courtier and vast libraries and is visited by th King's messengers.

What is awful is the Wood: horrors come out of it, and those that do not rip and rend corrupt with as little as a touch of pollen, turning people against themselves, against each other, into monsters.

The reality of the world is one of the most satisfying parts of this book. Harvests are necessary. There are rich and poor peasants. The court is partly there for purposes of politics, and partly for pointless posing. Agnieszka and Kasia's friendship has jealousies and angers alongside its love and loyalty. The characters are personable: you care about their fates and motivations, and even the most stupid action has a reason to it.

In terms of negatives, I have only two and they are both quibllings: the passing of time is blurry in parts, so there is one passage in paticular where I am still not sure after two readings whether days or weeks went by. And Agnieszka's magic, which is presented as 'organic' and different to the structured court magic of the others, which is not necessarily bad, except that the seven years of study done by the other wizards and witches isn't given a countrasting weight in her months of different working. Her specialness comes from her willingness to listen to what the world is telling her, but this is touched on very lightly. I would have loved more on the difference between her story magic and the others' book magic, but I suppose it was already a fairly substantial read!

Thoroughly recommended, including to people like me who are only semi-comfortable with fantasy.
wedjateyewedjateye on January 8th, 2016 10:25 am (UTC)
I loved this book. I actually really like fantasy as a genre but the older I get, them more pegged off I am about stereotyped gender roles in fic. On the day I bought this, I really wanted something with real women in it. With strength of their own and flaws and their own motivations. I know Novik's writing from fanfic and was thrilled to find her novel and it really hot the spot for me. All the characters had their own hopes, dreams, fears - felt rounded and real. The women as much as the men.

This comment is not letting me correct typos!
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 8th, 2016 11:36 am (UTC)
Don't worry: typos don't count in informal communications unless the communication is a grammar flame ;-)

And YES! Women characters! We want women who are people and who do things, and it shoudn't be that hard to get them!

I liked her dragon books, too, because there were lots of views of the same situation given, which I though was a strength in Uprooted, too. And I agree with you that fantasy can be a particular problematic when it comes to women. CJ Cherryh did some good fantasy to go with her sci-fi, and there were a few good Vonda McKintyre (sp??) books that I loved, though some others were a little too 70s for me. Frances Hardinge is my favourite writer in the genre now, but she's as much Gothic Magic Realism as fantasy.

Anyone you'd rec to me?
acefacebloodbelieve on January 8th, 2016 01:40 pm (UTC)
I read this on your recommendation and really enjoyed it!
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 8th, 2016 03:29 pm (UTC)
Yay! I'm so pleased! Have I raved at you about Frances Hardinge yet? I feel as though I should start a genteel and restrained fan club in which we would just send her tweets once a year that said 'Another excellent book, thank you so much' and her writing is so beautiful and spooky that anything else would seem overblown and girlish. But seriously, beautiful writing. And spooky ;-)

Any you'd suggest I should chase?
acefacebloodbelieve on January 8th, 2016 03:55 pm (UTC)
Ooh I will definitely check those out!

I'm not sure about recs back - have you read the Raven Boys? I've mostly enjoyed that series. And I quite want to read Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here, even though it's not in the same genre really, just for the incorporation of fanfic communities in it.