Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Naomi Novik
Genres: Fantasy
Pub date: May 2015 (read Aug. 2018)

This was a hard book to read for me and also a hard book to review. I’ve been putting it off and I must admit I’m already starting to forget the story a little bit.

Novik’s writing is gorgeous in this book and she really knows how to create a sense of atmosphere. I really did feel the danger of the Wood lurking over me throughout the entire time I was reading this book. I thought the story was really original and well written, I just really struggled to get into it. I felt like the plot would finally get moving and then a chapter would change and the plot would get really slow again.

Uprooted has the feel of a traditional fairytale. It starts off with our main character Agnieszka, who grew up in the valley, in the shadow of the ever ominous Wood. Their valley is protected from the Wood by the Dragon (not a literal dragon, but a wizard named the Dragon), who in exchange for his protection, takes one girl to come live in his tower for 10 years, after which the girls is released, but never returns to her village. Everyone expects the dragon to take Kasia, but instead he sets his sights on clumsy Agnieszka. Once she moves to the tower, she discovers she is a witch in her own right and joins forces with the Dragon in trying to fight back to corruption of the Wood.

First off, I loved that the villain of this story is a wood. How brilliant. Not an evil wizard or neighbouring kingdom, but an evil woods, whose trees and creatures literally corrupt those who wander in, forcing them to do evil things. How futile it seems to be fighting against something as deep and dark as the woods, yet the Dragon and Agnieszka are unrelenting in the fight to drive the Wood back. But the Wood’s corruption has spread into the King’s castle as well and they must fight the corruption on two fronts.

I also thought that the character development was good. Agnieszka grows a lot over the course of the novel. At first she is afraid of the Dragon, but as she learns magic and grows to understand her power, she becomes more and more confident. She is driven by her love for the Valley and because she has grown up of the valley, she understands the Wood in a way that the Dragon, who holes himself up in his tower away from the Wood, cannot. She fights for what she believes is right and she isn’t afraid to disagree with the Dragon, or even the Prince.

Overall, the story was clever and it was really well writing, so I did like the book, it just wasn’t a quick read for me. I would still really like to read Spinning Silver, which is Novik’s new book, a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. Spinning Silver was actually the reason I was inspired to pick up Uprooted, I’ll just need to make sure I’m in the right mindset before I pick it up.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Julie C. Dao
Genres: Fantasy, Fairytale retelling
Pub date: Oct. 2017 (read Jul. 2017)

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns seems to have some pretty mixed reviews. Some people seem to love it, while others are not enjoying it at all. To be honest, I thought I would probably be in the latter category since I listened to it as an audiobook (and I find audiobooks pretty hit or miss) and fairytale retellings aren’t really my favourite.

But damn, I did actually really like this, even as an audiobook. I didn’t properly read the synopsis and I went into this thinking it was a snow white retelling, but it’s actually an origin story of the evil queen, set in an East Asian fantasy world! A much more enthralling concept in my opinion!

I admit that I didn’t love this at first – the first few chapters nearly put me and my friend to sleep on a road trip, but it picks up pretty quickly and there is some really engaging nastiness later in the plot and I loved watching Xifeng navigate down an increasingly dubious path.

To give a bit of background, Xifeng has grown up in a tiny village in the empire of Feng Lu. For the first 18 years of her life she has been under the tyranny of her Aunt Guma. Guma reads in the cards that Xifeng’s destiny is to become the Empress of Feng Lu, so she educates her and teaches her the ways of blood magic in order to toughen her up. At the hands of her aunt’s abuse, Xifeng learns that her beauty is her most important asset and that it must be protected at all times.

Guma wants to help Xifeng succeed, but after a disturbing vision, Xifeng decides its time to leave her aunt and her village behind in order to seek her fortune. She escapes the village with her childhood friend and lover, Wei. Wei wants nothing more than to marry and protect Xifeng, but she believes in a different destiny for herself, and though she loves Wei, she keeps him at an arms length as they make their way towards the imperial city.

Like I said, this book has a lot of blood and nastiness in it, but I loved it. Xifeng makes some questionable decisions to protect her beauty and find her way into the imperial palace. But she is super determined and I admired her for continuing to chase after her fortune, even though it meant many sacrifices along the way and a blind faith that her circumstances would improve. The drama within the palace walls was thrilling and I’m really interested to see where Dao takes this in the next book.