Thoughts

How to write a friendship – Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Maybe I pick bad books or maybe I don’t read enough female authors; but I’m always pleasantly surprised at well written female friendships. One of the best things about Uprooted is the friendship between Agnieszka and Kasia. It’s not one of those ‘we’re friends even though nothing we ever do shows that’, but it’s also not a shallow ‘my bestie is always perfect’. It’s more complex than that and so relatable. Kasia has her own story, she doesn’t only exist so that the main character has a best friend that occasionally shows up and comments on the plot.

Agnieszka sees Kasia in an idealized way. Really, everyone seems to idealize Kasia – the certainty that she will be picked doesn’t just come from her parents but from everyone in their village.

“She had thick wheat-golden hair that she kept in a braid to her waist, and her eyes were warm brown, and her laugh was like a song that made you want to sing it. She thought of all the best games, and could make up stories and new dances out of her head; she could cook fit for a feast, and when she spun the wool from her father’s sheep, the thread came off the wheel smooth and even without a single knot or snarl.
I know I’m making her sound like something out of a story. But it was the other way around. When my mother told me stories about the spinning princess or the brave goose-girl or the river-maiden, in my head I imagined them all a little like Kasia; that was how I thought of her. And I wasn’t old enough to be wise, so I loved her more, not less, because I knew she would be taken from me soon.”

The thing that really made me fall in love with Agnieszka and Kasia’s friendship is the part where Agnieszka and Sarkan are trying to save Kasia from Wood’s corruption. They use The Summoning and it has the effect of showing the whole truth about a person – it shows them that no matter how well they know and love each other, they both kept parts of themselves hidden. It makes sense they did that to protect the friendship, but having all their feelings exposed makes their connection even deeper.

“I saw my own face reflected in her wide glassy eyes, and my own secret jealousies, how I had wanted all her gifts, if not the price she would have to pay for them. Tears crept into my eyes; it felt like Wensa haranguing me all over again, and this time there was no escape. All the times I’d felt like nothing, the girl who didn’t matter, that no lord would ever want; all the times I’d felt myself a gangly tangled mess beside her. All the ways she’d been treated specially: a place set aside for her, gifts and attention lavished, everyone taking the chance to love her while they could. There had been times I had wanted to be the special one, the one everyone knew would be chosen. Not for long, never for long, but now that seemed like cowardice: I’d enjoyed a dream of being special and nursed a secret seed of envy against her, though I’d had the luxury of putting it aside whenever I chose.”

“I had to see her, bare before me, and that hurt even worse: because she’d hated me, too.
She’d hated me for being safe, for being loved. My mother hadn’t set me to climb too-tall trees; my mother hadn’t forced me to go three hours’ walk every day back and forth to the hot sticky bakery in the next town, to learn how to cook for a lord. My mother hadn’t turned her back to me when I’d cried, and told me I had to be brave. My mother hadn’t brushed my hair three hundred strokes a night, keeping me beautiful, as though she wanted me taken; as though she wanted a daughter who would go to the city, and become rich, and send back money for her brothers and sisters, the ones she let herself love—oh, I hadn’t even imagined that secret bitterness, as sour as spoiled milk.
And then—and then she’d even hated me for being taken. She hadn’t been chosen after all. I saw her sitting at the feast afterwards, out of place, everyone whispering; she had never imagined herself here, left behind in a village, in a house that hadn’t meant to welcome her back. She’d made up her mind to pay the price, and be brave; but now there was nothing left to be brave for, no glittering future ahead. The older village boys smiled at her with a kind of strange, satisfied confidence. Half a dozen of them had spoken to her during the feast: boys who’d never said a word to her, or had only looked at her from afar as though they didn’t dare to touch, now came and spoke to her familiarly, as if she had nothing to do but sit there and be chosen by someone else instead. And I’d come back in silk and velvet, my hair caught in a net of jewels, my hands full of magic, the power to do as I liked, and she’d thought, That should be me, it should have been me, as though I was a thief who’d taken something that belonged to her.”

I could quote half the book, really. The writing is so wonderful.

Later on in the book Agnieszka spends some time going to parties at the court, where she ends up humiliating a girl who pretended to be her friend and it leads her to a revelation about court friendships.

“That wasn’t the worst of it, though. Worse was the titter that went all around the room, from men I’d seen her dance with and women she’d called her intimate friends. I jerked off my own head-dress and hurried over to the lavish refreshments, hiding my face from the room over bowls of grapes. Even there, a young man in an embroidered coat that must have taken some woman a year of work sidled up to my side and whispered in tones of glee that Alicja wouldn’t be able to show her face at court for a year—as though that should have pleased me.”

It’s an interesting contrast to her friendship with Kasia. The little jealousies that were there all the time but neither girl let it ruin what they had… and then there are people who have so much more but are ruled by the things they don’t.
Wonderful book. I almost wish there were multiple POVs, I would love to read more about Kasia’s life from her perspective.

4 thoughts on “How to write a friendship – Uprooted by Naomi Novik”

  1. Hear hear! Their friendship was also one of my favourite parts of the book. I would also love to read more about Kasia. Before Spinning Silver was published, I had my fingers crossed that Novik’s next fairytale-esque book would be about Kasia…

    Liked by 1 person

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