Why NCAA Women’s Gymnastics should be your Lockdown viewing.

Thanks to the coronavirus, our worlds have all been shrunk to the size of our houses. All forms of entertainment have been confined to our TV screens and book pages, and sport has vanished from the social sphere. Saturday morning muddy football matches, browsing independent bookstores, queues outside theatres and laughs over almond lattes with friends have all been brought to a resounding close.

Despite this social standstill, there are loads of ways to stay culturally engaged thanks to the phenomenon that is the internet. The National Theatre, The Globe, and Andrew Lloyd Webber are among hundreds of institutes that are live-streaming their shows for free. All over the world, musicians and artists are collaborating to provide glimpses of creativity through Zoom boxes on screens. We can’t go to the theatres, and so the theatres have come to us.

And yet sport does not seem to have the same online appeal.

Usually, sport is a season-long investment. You may love football or basketball, but there’s something about the personalities in a team and the dramatics from the fans that elevates it into a social spectacle. You are not just a basketball fan – you love the skills, the theatre of a game. You are not just a football fan – you are an ardent follower of Manchester United, or Real Madrid. And you are not just a fan of them because they’re from your hometown – you’re a fan because you’re truly devoted to the narrative of that team; their wins, their losses, their joys, their heartbreaks. This is what keeps fans invested season after season.

So why hasn’t this translated into the corona-online sphere?

Because sport, unlike the arts, doesn’t have the complete story in a one-time watch. While you go to the theatre and see an entire show in around 2 hours, fans follow their teams’ stories throughout a whole season. Each match is tense and exciting precisely because you have no idea what the outcome will be. Re-run matches hold some nostalgia, but don’t have anywhere near the same grip as watching it live.

And so, here we all are. Two months into a deep re-acquaintance with the four walls of our homes. Boredom has probably kicked in. You are probably desperately in need for some new entertainment that doesn’t involve mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. Maybe you’re missing live sport. I present to you… US College Gymnastics.

College gymnastics has received a lot of big press recently, thanks to the fun viral floor routines that have come out of UCLA Gymnastics. These routines showcase twenty-something year old girls, spreading body-positivity and joy through 90 second flip-filled dance numbers. But fun floor routines are not all there is to college gymnastics. It is full of tragedy, hope, drama, excitement and all-consuming team spirit.

Much like Olympic gymnastics, a meet takes us through four rounds; the vault, the uneven bars, the balance beam and the floor routines. Each apparatus requires a unique set of skills, poise and rhythmic ability, and only the best of the best compete at college. Throughout each routine, gymnasts are aspiring for the coveted ‘Perfect-10’ – a perfect score. The search for this perfect routine is career-long for most athletes, and college is their last opportunity before retirement, so the stakes are high.

Over a 4-5 month long season, colleges compete against each other in weekly meets that test the gymnasts endurance, strength, skill and, most importantly, ability to entertain. Think dance party meets The Rock. If you need any further convincing, then search ‘Katelyn Ohashi Floor Routine’ into YouTube.

The gymnasts all have individual routines, custom-tailored to show their personalities. This only makes it all the more entertaining, as you get a sense of humanity behind the insane displays of skill and strength. These girls have struggled, these girls know perseverance. It requires absolutely no knowledge of gymnastics whatsoever to enjoy these meets, but you pick it up very quickly and soon enough you’ll be critiquing the toe points and the split jumps right alongside the commentators.

But the reason why this should be your lockdown viewing, even if you don’t give two hoots about sport, is because college gymnastics transcends a sporting event.

A large proportion of the female gymnasts competing at college right now were a part of the USA Gymnastics programme that saw the largest, prolonged case of sexual assault in sporting history, under Team Doctor Larry Nassar. Nassar assaulted and groomed hundreds of young female athletes, some as young as 9 years old, under the pretense of giving them physiotherapy and sporting treatment. The staff at USA Gymnastics turned a blind eye, even after complaints were filed. Furthermore, the emotional abuse from the coaches at USA Gymnastic was so systemic and severe, that many girls refused to eat or talk while at camps, for fear of being rejected for the Olympic team. Over the past 3 years, scores and scores of survivors of this horrific abuse have testified against Nassar and USA gymnastics, exhibiting tremendous bravery and strength. A large proportion of these survivors now compete, week in, week out, in college.

And so, watching these brave, powerful women stand up on the podium and showcase their talent, perseverance, and love for their team is not just a sport. It is a massive middle finger in the face of emotional and physical abuse. These women are shining lights that life after abuse can be difficult and draining… but a fulfilled, joyful life is possible. As for its relevance in the times of ‘Rona? It shows that strength comes from adversity. It asks us to find light and happiness from within ourselves, and not our extenuating circumstances.

Many of these gymnastics meets are on YouTube, and so it’s completely free to watch. May I recommend starting with UCLA and LSU Gymnastics. Just search into YouTube, and choose any meet to get started!

Joyful, uplifting and a celebration of female strength. You have to watch.

Musical Chats with David Owen Norris

During my time as Concert Promotions and Marketing intern at Turner Sims (if you’re in the Southampton area, make sure to check out their concert series!) I got to interview a lot of great artists. You can check out my interviews and reviews on the Turner Sims blog, as well as here on The Rosie Word. 

I will be uploading interviews in a series called “Musical Chats with…”, so stay tuned for more interviews with great artists! 

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David Owen Norris is a world-renowned pianist, educator, Professor and broadcaster. I had the pleasure of interviewing David before he delved into Mozart’s Jupiter symphony with orchestra SÓN at Turner Sims on Saturday 14 March 2020. This concert included Jupiter, and Debussy’s Clair de lune arranged for piano and orchestra.

Rosie Sewell (RS): How would you describe Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony to an audience member who has never heard it before?
David Owen Norris (DON): A sparkling diamond of a symphony that thoroughly deserves its nickname. Jupiter was King of the Gods, and nothing is more commandingly brilliant than this, Mozart’s last symphony. The themes perform that difficult trick of being both catchy and distinct, each with its own character, and rich in possibilities, as Mozart shows as he develops his ideas through each of the four movements. Unusually luxuriant harmonies, even for Mozart, and a dazzling tour de force of counterpoint in the Finale, where a whole world is conjured up from just the four notes we hear at the beginning. One of the great summits of music, up there with Beethoven’s Fifth and The Rite of Spring – and Clair de lune!

RS: Mozart and Debussy were alive and composing just over 100 years apart from each other, and were living in very different Europes to each other. Do you find that these composers’ works particularly complement each other? Or are they really quite distinct from each other?
DON: What Mozart and Debussy have in common is an exquisitely sensitive aural imagination – a fine ear, you could say. Putting just one note into a different octave, for instance, would completely change the effect. One of my favourite moments in Clair de lune is where the opening tune comes back at the end. It’s almost the same, but Debussy adds just one new note, a C flat, and the effect is heart-breaking. Or listen to how Mozart uses his single flute, like a painter touching in a dab of white to bring light into his picture.

RS: You are the Professor of Classical Performance at the University of Southampton, and are working on this project with SÓN, who place an emphasis on education and outreach. You also often make presentations alongside performances. Is music education and outreach a key point of interest for you when you undertake projects?
DON: Music is more than a warm aural bath for us to wallow in. Great music makes its emotional effects by intellectual means, and the better we understand its intellectual aspect, the more emotionally satisfying the music becomes. So, Bach can sound like a sewing-machine, or like a wonderful tapestry of interlocking threads of different colours. Beethoven can sound like an old, over-familiar, library book, or like one of art’s greatest revolutionaries. The difference lies in the intellectual comprehension of both performer and listener. Education and Outreach are tick-box words, but the activities that they imperfectly describe – Listening closely, Explaining simply, Knowing that everyone can enjoy music – are very important ones.

RS: On a similar theme, do you find that working alongside young musicians and students has influenced and impacted you as a performer?
DON: It’s good to see the effect that a by-now familiar piece of music has, upon someone who’s hearing it or playing it for the first time. And very satisfying to observe processes of discovery. Above all, it’s stimulating to hear the new interpretations of a generation with different formative experiences, different memories, and different emotional expectations. And a lesson on a piece, for both teacher and student, is a wonderful way of exploring it outside real time, as you try things in different ways.

RS: And finally, if you could host a dinner party and invite three composers, who would they be?
DON: Haydn, Poulenc and Constant Lambert. People who couldn’t be dull if they tried.

RS: Thank you very much for your time, David!

REVIEW: Matilda the Musical (UK National Tour)

Rating: ★★★★★
Quick Summary: ‘When I Grow Up,’ I want to be Matilda.

Meet Matilda. The talented young story-teller suffers while living with her TV-obsessed family, but discovers her hidden talents when she meets her new school teacher, Miss Honey. Tim Minchin’s musical, based on the well-loved book by Roald Dahl, perfectly captures the heartwarming story of this earnest, charming little girl.

Matilda the Musical is currently touring the UK as well as showing on the West End, and I went to see the show on its opening night in Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre, with the touring cast. The show opens with an entourage of precocious children and their over-bearing parents in the comedic number ‘Miracle’, and from this moment onward you can expect to be bowled over by the young talent on the stage. With effortless soaring high notes from Bruce (played by Toby Mocrei when I saw it), adorable characterisation from Lavender (Chantelle Tonolete) and, of course, a powerful little leading lady in Matilda (Sophie Woolhouse, who makes her professional debut), the child cast brought outstanding vibrancy to the stage.

The thrillingly terrifying Miss Trunchbull is played by Elliot Harper in this production, and he is an absolute joy not to be missed. While Harper highlighted the menacing and intimidating elements of the Trunchbull, he also brought her to life through his comic timing which made her seem awkward and almost childish at times. This was a really interesting characterisation, and one that elevated the character beyond the two-dimensional villain she has always been known as.

If the cast does not do enough to facilitate your enjoyment, then the set and production most certainly will. With swings, scooters and moving steps in the gate of the school that spell out the alphabet, the set of Matilda is absolutely incredible. The ‘swing choreography’ in ‘When I Grow Up’ is a highlight of the show.

As I’ve said before, the Southampton Mayflower is a great place to go and see shows. The way the seats are raked means you can’t really have a bad view, and the acoustics of the room are fantastic. It is definitely worth a visit.

Matilda the Musical is pure joy and excellence. With themes of family tension, vulnerability, overcoming bullies, being yourself and supporting your friends, this show is both a fun time and an educational one.

 

Matilda the Musical is showing at the Southampton Mayflower Theatre until the 6th July, and will then be showing at Norwich Theatre Royal from 16 July – 17 August. Buy tickets here

REVIEW: The Audience (NST, Southampton)

Rating: ★★★★★
Quick Summary: For those who love good old Queenie, and for those who don’t.

 

A revival of Peter Morgan’s The Audience is currently showing at the NST City in Southampton. The play premiered in the West End in 2013, and stages the Queen’s private weekly meetings with her prime ministers. It poses questions of the Queen’s character and the necessity of the monarchy in our modern society, all the while showing us the comic and witty side of our serious figurehead. “Often funny, sometimes confessional, occasionally explosive” (NST Southampton), The Audience is a masterpiece not to be missed.

65 Years. 13 Prime Ministers. One Queen.

Queen Elizabeth is a public figure that we perhaps do not take much time to sympathize with. The Royal Family is steeped in tradition and protocol, and so it is very easy to forget that the head of that institution is also a person. Faye Castelow perfectly captures this tension between the figurehead and the people in her portrayal of Elizabeth. Her Elizabeth is passionate about her country and the Commonwealth, but also about fairness and justice. She is not permitted to state opinion on political affairs, and yet her facial expressions and body language go a long way to show how she feels. Droll, intelligent, likeable and very upper class, we see Elizabeth as both a “postage stamp with a pulse” and as a woman trying to maintain her integrity in a position that demands she compromises it.

The staging for this production includes a large conveyer belt which wheels the Prime Ministers out onto the stage, adding a layer of comedy but also a more profound statement on the longevity of the Queen’s service as well as the seemingly never-ending trail of middle-aged white men that seem to occupy the PM position. Paul Kemp is a triumph as the male PM’s, where he embodies the essence of all of them with remarkable skill and finesse. His Harold Wilson was the stand-out, with witty comedy and poignancy in his diminishing health, showcasing a close bond with the Queen.

Perhaps the highlight of the whole show is the confrontation between Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher, played by Lizzie Hopley. Thatcher storms into Buckingham Palace in a rage about a newspaper article that has been published stating Elizabeth’s poor opinion of her. A wonderful scene then ensues in which Elizabeth and Thatcher engage in a hostile confrontation, stalking up and down the conveyer belt towards each other in what feels like a hunt, yet we cannot quite tell which is the predator and which is the prey.

The combination of Morgan’s writing, Hodges‘ directing, Vize’s set design and the performances from Castelow and Kemp make The Audience unmissable. The private meetings liken to therapy sessions for the Prime Minister, and throughout we get a sense that all of the Prime Ministers are very similar men, just in a “different tie.”  By the end, we feel we have grown to understand the Queen, her PM’s, and the delicate balance that keeps it all together just a little bit more than we did before we started, all the while being entertained with Elizabeth’s wit and perfectly posh accent.

 

See The Audience at NST City, Southampton from 24 May – 22 June. Get your tickets here

 

 

 

REVIEW: Catwoman Soulstealer

Quick summary: Giving ‘Crazy Cat Lady’ a whole new meaning.
Rating: ★★★★☆

Try this series if you like: DC Comics (obvs), Cassandra Clare, Daniel José Older, Richelle Mead


In this rewrite of DC’s Catwoman, we are re-introduced to the badass anti-hero Selina Kyle, and her ‘band of merry men’, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. We also meet Luke Fox as the ex-military do-gooder, Batwing. Full to the brim with high-stake heists, romance, allies and enemies, this stand-alone book is good for hard-core fans and comic book rookies alike.

The world-building in this story happens quickly. Within the first few pages we are introduced to the teeming, corrupt underworld where Selina Kyle spends most of her life. We learn about the social hierarchies and some of the basic politics of Gotham City but are expected to fill in the gaps ourselves as far as societal culture goes. When it comes to feeding the reader information about the world, it is more ‘tell’ than ‘show’; for example, we find out that Selina’s sister Maggie is very ill, but instead of finding this out through clues such as her coughing, or taking medicine, Maas writes “with her mother gone and her sister sick, no legit job could pay as much or as quickly.” This does the job, but I would have liked a teeny bit more subtlety.

As far as the characters go, they are interesting and reasonably well-developed. Selina Kyle has an interesting storyline; a female anti-heroine who is interested in protecting the people she loves, but ultimately has no qualms over committing high-level crimes. She is cunning, wily, an excellent fighter and adept at having secret plans that aren’t revealed until late in the novel – Maas’ forte, it seems! Her secretive personality complements the brash insanity of Harley Quinn and the stoic, green-fiend Poison Ivy well, and overall I found her character to be an enjoyable and pleasing read.

Some reviews make the comment that Luke Fox is only present in the book to give Selina a love interest, and, as a black character, to add diversity to the cast. I did not find this at all. I read him as a man struggling to keep control over his PTSD, Gotham City while Batman is away, and his growing feelings for someone he really should not be feeling things for. He frequently commented on police brutality against the black community, and this did add a good dimension to the book as there was the antithesis of him being targeted by law enforcement for his skin colour and yet he is the one protecting the city from criminals. I found it ever so slightly basic in its delivery; it was similarly more ‘tell’ than ‘show.’ This is not, however, a criticism of Luke Fox as a character – I liked him, I saw his good intentions, and although he was a bit vanilla, he complemented Selina’s character well.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I got through it quickly. The plot, world-building, eand characterisation were arguably not anything jaw-droppingly special, but they held my interest, and I was invested in what happened. For both A Court of Thorns and Roses and Throne of Glass (Maas’ series,) I found that while I enjoyed the first book, the later books in the series were where I became truly captivated. Perhaps Maas’ writing is like cheese or wine – it is good at first, but it gets really good over time. If we were to have a series made out of this, then I might fall head over heels in love with it, but as it stands, I love it as you might love a close-ish friend. You’re not my family, you’re not my soulmate, but I get on with you and I’d hang out with you again.

SUMMER READING PREVIEW

This summer we are once again taking on the challenge of trying to read one book every week! There is nothing better for expanding your imagination and challenging your mind than reading, and to celebrate this, here is a preview of some of the exciting books we are reading over the summer.

Catwoman Soulstealer – Sarah J Maas

When the Bat’s away, the Cat will play.

Two years after escaping Gotham City’s slums, Selina Kyle returns as the mysterious and wealthy Holly Vanderhees. Batman is off on a vital mission and Gotham is at the mercy of the new thief on the prowl. Joined by the cunning Poison Ivy and the notorious Harley Quinn, she wreaks havoc across the city.

Selina is playing a desperate game of cat and mouse. But with a dangerous threat from the past on her tail, will she be able to pull of the ultimate heist.

What’s the deal?

DC superheroes are being brought to life by well-loved authors in the DC Icons Series. Sarah J MaasCatwoman is the third release in this series, and is preceded by Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman and Marie Lu’s Batman. Most recently, Matt de la Peña’s Superman was released in March 2019.

What’s the hype?

Many of the reviews for this book are positive. People are loving the DC/Maas crossover, and most are liking the level of human emotion Maas brings to the character of Selina Kyle. Some want more strength and sassiness in the character, but by the same token some “think there is room for the exciting villainous Selinas of the past and for this more sensitive, emotionally-complex version.” (Emily May on Goodreads)

What are we expecting?                                                                                                                 

We know Maas can write action. We know Maas can write romance. We know Maas can write fantasy. We can probably confidently say that her action writing, character development and world-building skills will translate into her contribution to the DC Icons series, and therefore this book is probably very good.

However, what is particularly exciting about the prospect of this novel is that it is very different from Maas’ previous output; whereas A Court of Thorns and Roses, and Throne of Glass is set in a very clear fantasy world, with high magic and royalty, Catwoman is closer to urban fantasy, and is already established as part of a very famous, loved world created by a large franchise. It will be interesting to see how Maas’ fares in this style of writing, especially ahead of her urban fantasy series Crescent City in late 2019.

Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeyemi

They killed my mother.

They took our magic.

They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.

What’s the deal?

Nigerian-American author Tomi Adeyemi debuts with Children of Blood and Bone, which has already got a movie deal with Fox 2000/Temple Hill Productions. Adeyemi describes it as an “allegory for the modern black experience,” and in this West African YA-Fantasy magic, epic adventure and racial tensions all collide.

What’s the hype?

There is a HELL OF A LOT of hype surrounding this book, which is both a good and bad thing for the book. The more hype, the more exposure, but conversely, the more hype the higher the expectations of the reader. YA Fantasy readers have been wanting more diversity in what they read for a really long time, and Adeyemi more than delivers with this novel exploring race and issues in a world based on Nigeria and its mythology. Some readers have found issues with the book, saying the pace was very slow and they did not feel invested in the characters. Others, however, love the construction of both the world and characters, and feel it perfectly hits exactly what the YA market needs.

What are we expecting?                                                                                                                 

From reading some reviews, we are expecting the world building to be a particular highlight, with characters that you gradually warm up to the more the book progresses. We’re hoping there will be some good action and plot writing. Some of the more negative reviews have mentioned that they think the plot and characters are too trope-y, so it will be interesting to see what we think regarding that. Ultimately, this is Adeyemi’s debut novel, and we can’t wait to be introduced to her writing and finally catch up with reading this massively hyped book.

Once and Future – Amy Rose Capetta & Cori McCarthy

I’ve been chased my whole life. As a fugitive refugee in the territory controlled by the tyrannical Mercer corporation, I’ve always had to hide who I am. Until I found Excalibur.

Now I’m done hiding.

My name is Ari Helix. I have a magic sword, a cranky wizard, and a revolution to start.

When Ari crash-lands on Old Earth and pulls a magic sword from its ancient resting place, she is revealed to be the newest reincarnation of King Arthur. Then she meets Merlin, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager, and together they must break the curse that keeps Arthur coming back. Their quest? Defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind.

No pressure.

What’s the deal?

Entangled author Amy Rose Capetta joins forces with The Color of Rain’s Cori McCarthy in this gender-bending, space-crossing retelling of the King Arthur legend. On the surface, this novel seems to have everything that’s hot in YA right now; a badass female lead, adventure, and a “sizzling, bold exploration of gender, power and revolution” (Jessica Khoury.)  We received this book in a subscription box from Illumicrate.

What’s the hype?

In reviews, this book has been described as “that strange blend of sci-fi and quirky comedy that some people seem to love” (Emily May on Goodreads) The hype around this book, however, is not huge. In fact, it seems almost non-existent. The majority of the reviews rate the book a happy average, with little to no outstanding or awful ratings. Many reviews positively comment on the inclusivity and humour in the book, but are a bit more critical of the pacing and intention.

What are we expecting?

This seems to be a good, creative idea for a novel, and the premise is something we are likely to enjoy, and so the success of this book will all be in the execution. How are we introduced to the world which is seemingly quite different from our own? How are we introduced to the characters and how are their relationships built and developed? What is the pacing of the novel like? Are we getting bored? These questions are all challenges we expect to have to put to this book.

City of Thieves – David Benioff

Four months into the siege of Leningrad, the city is starving. Seventeen-year-old Lev fears for his life when he is arrested for looting the body of a dead German paratrooper, while his charismatic cellmate, Kolya, a handsome young soldier arrested for desertion, seems bizarrely unafraid.

Dawn brings, instead of an execution squad, an impossible challenge. Lev and Kolya can find a dozen eggs for an NKVD colonel to use for his daughter’s wedding cake, and live. Or fail, and die.

In the depths of the coldest winter in history, through a city cut off from all supplies and suffering appalling deprivation, man and boy embark on an absurd hunt. Their search will take them through desolate, lawless Leningrad and the devastated countryside surrounding it, in the captivating journey of two men trying to survive against desperate odds.

What’s the deal?

In City of Thieves, Benioff retells the story told to him by his grandfather of two boys in WWII Leningrad on an insane mission. The horrendous and the comical are interwoven in every aspect of this book. We have two young boys about to face the firing squad in desolate, bleak wartime Leningrad, and all of the horrors that war has wreaked on their city. At the same time, we have a Soviet sending them across the destitute city to find some eggs, and if they return empty-handed then they will face their deaths. Described as an “intimate coming-of-age story”, this book seems to transcend all normal expectations of a war novel, finding the humanity in the inhumane.

What’s the hype?

Described as cinematic in its style, with writing that transports you, reviews are loving this deft combination of fiction and biography that provides an insight into a city that was devastatingly affected by the war. Many say that Benioff successfully manages to write a historical novel that both puts characters at its heart and also provides a harrowingly accurate picture of war-stricken Russia. In fact, it is very difficult to find negative reviews of this book. The vast majority of reviews rate it 4 or 5 stars, and even those that are lower are very complimentary, and the reason for the low rating is that they weren’t particularly interested in the subject matter. The consensus among reviewers is that Benioff’s writing is exquisite; indeed, J. Kent Messum says “it’s a modern textbook example of how to write a great story.”  

What are we expecting?

We’re expecting it to be really good! Benioff is co-creater of the TV phenomenon Game of Thrones, and so the cinematic writing that everyone is raving about is something we really hope comes across. We are interested to see if it has the same sort of pace and tone as The Book Thief, as this is what a fair few of the reviews seem to imply. The characters seem to be of central importance in this book, and so it will be interesting to see how attached we get to them, and how they are developed throughout. As is it historical fiction, we expect that the world-building will be good, and we want to get a real feel for what life was like in wartime Leningrad.

Uprooted – Naomi Novik

“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 ten 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 ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

What’s the deal?

In Uprooted, Novik presents a high-fantasy world saturated with folklore and magic. The anti-hero of the novel seems to be the evil Wood, and clumsy, average Agnieszka finds herself at the centre of the battle against this “malevolent power.” “One part Polish folk tale, one part coming-of-age magical fantasy, and one part horror,” (Tadiana on Goodreads) and with a purposefully vague blurb, before even picking the book up, we are expecting big things.

What’s the hype?

This book has a lot of hype from some really big hitters in YA Fantasy; for example, Cassandra Clare, Lev Grossman, Maggie Stiefvater and Robin Hobb. If that doesn’t hype the novel up, I don’t know what does. With words such as “enchanting”, “thrilling” and “a delight” being regularly thrown around, Uprooted is being reviewed as both “otherworldly and planted in the real”; the seemingly perfect combination for a fantasy novel! On the other hand, some reviews are not so positive, with readers wanting much more character development, particularly for the anti-heroes, and describing the story as “nothing new.”

What are we expecting?

Described as “a charming and inviting story that looks unflinchingly at the strangling roots of hurt and revenge” (Robin Hobb), we expect this novel to be an easy read, but one with some dark tension interweaved in with the enchanting magical world. This is exactly the sort of book a YA Fantasy fan should hope to love; satisfying plot lines, adventure, perhaps a hint of romance and some epic magic. After the build-up from all of those authors, we’re really, really hoping it’s amazing – – please don’t let us down, Uprooted!

REVIEW: Truthwitch

Quick summary: Sisters before misters, *KAPOW*!
Rating: ★★★★★
Try this series if you like: Sara Raasch, Renée Ahdieh, Kendare Blake and Laini Taylor.


This book is 479 pages of brilliant, completely enjoyable writing. You have to take this opening novel of The Witchlands series as it is – a light fantasy with sparks of romance, high-octane adventure and a sister-bond between two female witches. It is fun, easy to read, and puts friendship above all else, which is a nice angle that you don’t always see in YA Fantasy.

Character-wise, we have some interesting ones in this mixed bag. Safi and Iseult are the two main female characters and they are Threadsisters, a bond stronger than those between families. Trouble seems to follow them wherever they go, and the fact that the twenty-year treaty keeping the peace between the countries in Susan Dennard‘s world is swiftly coming to an end leads us to the conclusion that these girls will somehow be heavily involved in what’s to come. Both Safi and Iseult bring something completely different to the table. They are individuals, but both work together, and this is what catapults them from arguably run-of-the-mill YA characters to something vastly more interesting.

They are joined in the ensemble cast by Merik, Safi’s steamy love interest and Prince of Nubrevna, who is desperate to ensure his country doesn’t collapse into poverty and starvation after the costly wars. Merik is earnest and has good intentions at heart, but there were many times where I did want to reach into the book and throttle him.
We also have Aeduan, who threatens to fall into the brooding-bad-boy trope, but deftly swerves away into a well thought out character with emotional complexity and multi-layered villainy. He is definitely a key one to watch for character development, and also for potential romances… (I’m looking at you, Iseult!)

I got on with the writing of relationships in a similar way to how I got on with Laini Taylor – there were similarities in the dynamics between relationships, both romantic and platonic. This was an aspect of Taylor’s writing I really enjoyed, and this enjoyment translated into Dennard’s writing as well.

Dennard’s world-building has had mixed reviews from what I can see, as others think while there is some vague background information, we don’t get to deeply dive into the Witchlands with elongated descriptive writing. We are asked to grasp the geography, culture and politics pretty quickly, and sometimes you do have to reread sections to fully grasp the implication it has on your understanding of the world. From this angle, I did find it a slow start and if you want world building to have a stronger presence than action or plot, then this isn’t the book for you. While detailed world-building is usually something I really enjoy, I didn’t find I needed any more than Dennard gave. Her writing is full to the brim with fast-paced action and “dynamic storytelling” (Publishers Weekly), so to slow the pace down with too much descriptive writing would take away from what Dennard’s writing is all about.

We want kick-assery, magic, deep-rooted friendships and some “tense (tense!) romance(s)” (Susan Dennard), and that is what we get! What’s not to love?! I say give this book a read.

Susan Dennard also has a really good blog/newsletter, and for any potential writers/enjoyers of literature, I recommend giving it a follow here!

Rosie x