Review by Knicky L. Abbott

Author name: Naomi Novik

Book Title: Uprooted

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: He may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every 10 years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.” 

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for 10 years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. 

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows – everyone knows – that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

Publication date: 1st March, 2016

Available formats: Paperback, Hardcover, Audiobook and Kindle

Purchase Link: https://www.amazon.com/Uprooted-Novel-Naomi-Novik/dp/0804179050/

I’ve been meaning to write this review since summer 2021, when I first read this book, and I’m afraid I’ve waited too late. But I can’t shake the fact that I must sing the praises of the most wonderful fantasy story I’ve read since my childhood days, no matter how much time has passed since reading it. Perfectly named, and filled with characters I will never forget, Uprooted is the story of a natural village witch, Agnieszka, sacrificed to a beautiful but cold wizard, Sarkan the Dragon, and used for her magic to keep the malevolent, corrupted darkness of the Woods from consuming not only her village, and nearby villages, but all the world.

This book fed me for days, alternating between a languid, poetic, nature-infused read and an exciting, page-turning, moreish binge. No matter where I took my breaks, I couldn’t shake its satisfying hold on my imagination, called and called again by the small adventures and sweeping epic in which Agnieszka found herself entangled, from living with and learning from Sarkan, to the historical intrigue of a taken Queen, lost all these years to the Wood, and the political strongarm of her prince-son demanding that they find his mother. When I read the last line on the last page, I mourned for days the absence of the characters I had come to adore.

It is those characters, their chemistry and their finer details, that is the backbone of this book. I particularly enjoyed the character of Kasia, Agnieszka’s dearest friend, who was not at all who or how I thought she would be at the end of their journey; Her character so quietly strong, resolute and masterful, echoed the skill of novelist Novik in a manner that felt perfectly true to form. Yet it was the character of and behind the Wood itself, that left its mark on my mind as simply fantastic, and one of the most originally-rendered antagonists I have read in a fantasy story to date.

The feeling of time and things in this story are unmatched in their fantastical elements, unmatched and utterly delightful, leaving me greedy and deeply enthralled. It didn’t just feel set in the village of Dvernik in the kingdom of Polnya, it felt set in the very heart of me, and there is nothing more I love than a good story that makes me feel like I’ve come home to myself. A beautiful tale written in beautiful prose, Uprooted will remain a favourite of mine close to forever, and I cannot wait to get into other books of similar ilk to feed the near-hunger it left behind.

Stalking Leviathan: A Bestiary of Tales

Review by Knicky Laurelle


Author name: The Random Writers

Book Title: Stalking Leviathan: A Bestiary of Tales 


 The Synopsis: “It’s out there. I can feel it in my water. I can hear it…”

Twelve tales go in search of creatures of myth, legend, and the spaces between the real and the imagined. From the overwhelming confusion of the Irish Civil War to the eerie expanse of modern day Bodmin Moor; from Elizabethan England to the skies above Persia, the Random Writers quest for an answer to the question – What is the nature of the beast?

Length: 198 pages

Release date: 27 September, 2016

Available formats: Paperback and eBook from Amazon

Purchase link:


“Farewell Civilisation”

For the beast from which your careful order once sprang has returned to devour it whole. The name of that beast is Myth and Stalking Leviathan: A Bestiary of Tales, its hunting ground. I finished reading this third anthological instalment from The Random Writers a few days ago. It is a menagerie of the more obscure creatures of legend and lore. Everything from unicorns to chimeras to harpies is here, hidden between the pages, within stories of power, fantasy and intrigue. To quote a favoured line of mine: “Stepping into the enormous morning” of such an ambitious effort to weave words into new wonders, I found myself truly excited to see what gifts the writers would offer us this time and theme around.

It goes without saying that there is something here for everyone to enjoy. I also think it fair to say that it was a challenge to not compare this anthology with the one that preceded it. The truth of the matter is this collection of stories felt … slightly rushed to me, and resonated less with me than the one it followed. It didn’t seem as strong or to have the same tight finish as Something Rich and Strange. However, that is not to say there weren’t some pieces within it by which I was awakened and entranced, and it is on these I’ll focus.

I really enjoyed My Sister’s Shadow.  Despite most everything being alluded to rather than openly stated – perhaps even because of this – I found it powerful and haunting. Written as journal entries in a strong, modern blogger’s voice, this story captures the spirit of Japanese culture to perfection and felt akin to reading manga or watching an anime in my mind. It is a tale of nature’s supremacy and dominion over human progress, its demand for human respect, and a vivid and fantastic opening to this anthology.

There was some great imagery in Kestrel and the Cryptonites, “a soft ethereal green that shimmered like the underside of leaves on a breezy day”, for example, and some fun lore in the existence of female wizards and the distinction between them and witches. The Pitcher Plant was spooky and well-written and any disappointment felt in the somewhat anticlimactic ending only serves to denote the degree to which I was invested in the story, and to which my expectations of some kind of face-off and resolution between the main character and the creature went unfulfilled.

Black Dog was also well-done; stellar story-telling and use of metaphor to depict the battle against depression as a monstrous, predatory shadow in the night, and how sometimes it takes an unforeseen force of good from beyond this earthly realm to beat back that darkness and pull one’s self into the sunlight. I thought The Bone Children and the Darkness was another beautifully-written piece as well, in which both madness and the interplay of love and fear felt convincing and true-to-life, uncomfortably so.

The Hounds of God was really strong too, from its opening imagery to its likeable, fun-to-read main character to its terrific use of language throughout. Honorable mention goes to both The Child of the Ghillie Dhu and Keep My Name Amongst the Dead, the former for its faerie tale feeling, the latter for its exotic flavor, and both for reminding me why I’ve loved stories all of my life. Here is the haunt of mythic beasts, beasts that stalk us, beasts we stalk in turn. Here is where they roam and hide and wait, between the pages, within the stories, to devour the careful order of civilization itself and in so doing, remind us who we are.

Favourite Line(s):

“The rice fields are old mirrors and the air is heavy with pollen.” – My Sister’s Shadow, Lorraine Wilson.

Overall Orb Rating

3.5 Roses (rounded up to 4) – Bloom and Grow (I enjoyed the splendour)     


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Something Rich and Strange: The Past is Prologue

Review by Knicky Laurelle


Author name: The Random Writers

Book Title: Something Rich and Strange: The Past is Prologue


The Synopsis: ‘It started with the Zhar-ptitsa, the Firebird, as these things must. No, let us say it started again with the Firebird.’

A group of researchers open a door in the present day that has been closed for centuries – and should have stayed that way. In 1840s Ireland, starving children face desperate measures to avoid the crisis consuming the land. A visitor to 19th century Japan learns what it takes to fan love to life. A girl struggles to rise above the walls that surround her in Georgian England. In 7th century Britain, a scribe translates the true value of a legend. Fourteen surprising, moving and compelling tales, weaving the next steps in the telling of famous events and stories from Greek myth to English folktale, via fairy tales and real historical events. The second anthology from The Random Writers – this is Something Rich and Strange.

Length: 308 pages

Release date: 29 November, 2015

Available formats: Paperback from Amazon or Createspace Direct, eBook from Nook, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple and Smashwords

Purchase links: 



“And so it ends.”

Or in the case of Something Rich and Strange: The Past is Prologue, begins again. I recently finished my first fantasy anthology read of 2016 and it couldn’t have made a more perfect beginning to a new year of stories to discover and explore. A marvel spun by The Random Writers from the fluid and infinite nature of Story itself, these are tales of wonder, a collection of rare and exotic fruit in a mythic orchard, each one bursting with secrets and truths untold. “What have you to offer me, poised on the edge of my life?” you might ask of it, to quote a favoured line of mine from this work. The answer is magic and sacrifice, power and loneliness, flight and despair. The answer is in its name.

Because this anthology is a many-splendored thing it would go without saying that it is resonant on myriad levels. You will find something, or someone, here to love. That is not to say it’s perfect. I found some stories middling compared to others, with endings that confused and fell short of resonance with me, while others sailed clean over my head and were simply not my thing. But I won’t say which ones, for all of this is a matter of mere opinion, which you might not find to be true and which is really my point.

A new year brings with it a new focus, and so I’ll focus on what I love. I loved Walls. It stroked my love of beast and tragic fantasy, and was a strong contender for my favourite wonder tale over all. I thought The Return of Lottie White clever and immensely enjoyable, and Speaking The Girls beautifully-written and yet another contender for overall favourite. The Descent of Man handled its premise and ideas so well as to leave me wanting more, and Godfather Death Part II won points for its narrative POV and having one of the strongest endings amongst all the stories.

I found The Great Hunger to be a wonderful coalescence between the Irish Potato Famine of 1845 and Hansel and Gretel, with traces of Peter Pan stirred in to darken the scent. Gold was quite funny, despite its rather abrupt and bleak ending, and Towards a Pure Land shone with characterization so emotively engaging and brilliant that my heart turned a cold, angry bitter at the ending, and I wanted to throttle the writer for thwarted hope I knew I had no right to feel. Which leaves the latest literary love of my life – Vasilisa, my favourite story, and my god, what perfection is here.

I anticipated reading this story most of all. Vasilisa tales are more often times than not inhabited by someone I love very much – Baba Yaga, the witch of the Iron Forest. There was no Baba in this Vasilisa story, but I was not disappointed. How could I be, with words so exquisite, a chase so surreal and loss so tragic it broke my heart as if it were my own? I’ve never read anything more perfect. And so it is with this anthology. It is as much home to thrills and enchantment as it is to uncertainty and fears, all of which you will gladly suffer, for all are shaping something, not just rich and strange … but rich and strange, and beautiful.

Favourite Line(s):

“What have you to offer me, poised on the edge of my life?” – Speaking the Girls, Karen Ginnane

“Soon, the battlefield was a mass of men, rippling, swelling and contracting like a flock of starlings in the early evening.” – Parchment, Matthew Willis

“That very hardest time of day is the hour after sunset when the whole world is tipped towards what it has lost and the sky is not yet done with bleeding.” – Vasilisa, Lorraine Wilson

Overall Orb Rating

4 Roses – Bloom and Grow (I enjoyed the splendour)     


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