Posts Tagged ‘Naomi Novik’

It’s that time of year, when Best-Of lists, awards, and other retrospectives are released into the world. This made me think about the books I’ve personally enjoyed during calendar year 2021. According to Goodreads, I’ve read 27 books (three short of my reading challenge) but of them all, two really stand out.

The first was The City We Became, by N. K. Jemisin, which technically was released in 2020. The initial release was in hardback, and I waited for the trade paperback. The book won a number of awards, which it deserved. I enjoyed how it played with stereotypes enough that I already wrote a whole blog post about it. You can revisit that here, if you wish.

The other was The Last Graduate, by Naomi Novik. This is the second book in her series The Scholomance, which is being categorized as contemporary fantasy but really I think is the spiritual successor to Harry Potter. Just think if dear old Hogwarts was an evil entity intent on devouring the students? That’s the Scholomance. Then add in a supremely powerful and snarky POV character, trying to organize her hostile and traumatized fellow students, so that they don’t all fall victim to the Scholomance’s malign tendencies.

Novik is an author who continues to grow and gain mastery with time. She’s also won a number of awards, although not for The Last Graduate. Her early series struck me as fairly ordinary, but she’s really hit her stride with her YA books, Uprooted and Spun in Silver. That’s not to say The Last Graduate is without flaws. El is the sole POV character, and she has a tendency to stop in the middle of the action to explain about things — some of which I already knew. This is one of my own flaws, which is perhaps why it sticks out to me. That didn’t stop me from enjoying the book or thinking about it for days afterward.

So, those are my two most memorable books from 2021. How about you? I’d love to hear your one or two most memorable books from this year.

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Novik, the author best known for her Temeraire series, takes a break with a different sort of dragon. Uprooted is another alternate history, this one set in Eastern Europe during the Renaissance. The two main kingdoms are clearly analogues to Poland and Russia. There are also persistent references to an ancient witch named Jaga, who seems quite similar to the folk character Baba Yaga.

This is an excellent book, full of foreboding. I raced through it, desperate to know what would happen. It has a great Brothers Grimm feeling, along with the thriller’s pacing. There’s a brave heroine whose growing power doesn’t fit the mold of how magic should be done. There’s a best friend who faces the worst and emerges more than human. There’s some fairly scathing comment about how politics work, and how one wounded heart can destroy everything a society tries to build. And there’s the Dragon.

Sarkan is the greatest wizard in the world, a hateful enigma who holds himself apart from ordinary people — except for one young woman he snatches away every tenth year. In this world, wizards and witches stop aging when their powers arise. Time slowly takes all their loved ones. This reality has made the Dragon bitter, sarcastic, impatient and demanding. As the tale unfolds, you can see that he is also lonely, noble, working relentlessly to protect the very people he chooses not to engage with.

Agnieska, the heroine, challenges everything about the Dragon. His way of magic doesn’t work for her, and hers is nonsense to him. Her love of family and friendship cracks his self-imposed isolation. Throughout Uprooted, these two struggle toward an understanding and a partnership that, in the end, Sarkan rejects. He leaves Agnieska and finds a different way to isolate himself.

I’ve heard many comparisons to “Beauty and the Beast,” which I don’t think truly fit this tale. I admire Novik for not making Sarkan fall in love and “get better” in the obvious, romantic way. Only in the last few pages does it seem that Agnieska may have changed him at all.

Some sources say this book stands alone, and others say it’s the start of a series. Whichever the case may be, it’s very much worth reading.

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