A beautiful and magical story inspired by Rumpelstiltskin, I absolutely loved the world and the complexity of the characters but it lacked a little of the emotional investment I was hoping for.
Will dark magic claim their home?
Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s too kind-hearted to collect his debts. They face poverty, until Miryem hardens her own heart and takes up his work in their village. Her success creates rumours she can turn silver into gold, which attract the fairy king of winter himself. He sets her an impossible challenge – and if she fails, she’ll die. Yet if she triumphs, it may mean a fate worse than death. And in her desperate efforts to succeed, Miryem unwittingly spins a web which draws in the unhappy daughter of a lord.
Irina’s father schemes to wed her to the tsar – he will pay any price to achieve this goal. However, the dashing tsar is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of mortals and winter alike. Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and Irina embark on a quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power and love.
As with her standalone novel Uprooted, Naomi Novik has once again been influenced by classic folktales. Taking Rumpelstiltskin as her starting point, she’s woven a rich, multilayered new story which is a joy to read.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As the wintry landscape on the cover suggests, this is a beautifully written, enchanting and magical story with some nods to the classic fairytale Rumpelstiltskin. I have to admit though that while I did find the writing beautiful and the world the author created incredibly vivid there was something about the story that left me feeling a little bit cold.
That’s not to say the story isn’t good, because it is. This was my first book by Novik and I was expecting it to be yet another retelling with a slightly more adult spin but it’s so much more. Rumpelstiltskin is obviously the inspiration behind it but Novik has taken the idea and expanded it into something truly her own. There is so much depth and detail it’s very easy to become completely immersed in the world she creates. It’s a little slow to get going as a lot of time is spent introducing the various characters and their place in the world but once I got into it I was completely captivated.
This is a story that makes you question everything. There’s nothing black and white about the events and the characters face some difficult decisions and moral dilemmas. No one is entirely good and even those who would be considered the “heroes” don’t always do the right thing. I actually loved how complex the characters were. This may be a fantasy set in a foreign land but they felt very real and their actions entirely convincing.
The story is told from multiple point of views, something I wasn’t so keen on, but primarily from the view of three young women, Miryem, daughter of the local money lender, Irina daughter of a Lord who’s scheming for power and Wanda, who ends up working for Miryem. I thought all three were wonderful characters and I loved how well it portrayed the limited role of women in this world and how each of them rises out of the role they’re pushed into despite their perceived weakness.
I loved how strong they all were in their own way but if I was naming a favorite it would have to be Miryem. She makes a lot of mistakes (bragging about turning silver into gold, which lands her in a lot of trouble, for example) but most of it comes from a good place, or at least a place of justifiable anger at the treatment of her family by the town. I love how she isn’t afraid to be hated if it means saving her family. I also have to admire how brave and clever she is, she thinks and schemes her way out of whatever trouble she lands herself in. This cunning and pride does however make her a little difficult to warm to. Similarly Wanda’s and Irina’s meekness and lack of self assurance, while completely understandable, also made them more frustrating than relateable.
As far as the other characters go I did find them intriguing but I’m not sure there was anyone I really cared about. The Staryk king, who kidnaps Miryem, was fascinating but a little too cold, aloof and mysterious to really care about and Mirnatius, the new Tsar who is possessed by a fire demon, did draw a lot of my sympathy (the chapters from his pov were actually some of my favorites) but there’s not quite enough of him. There were a few pov’s I felt were unnecessary and it caused the story to drag a bit but I did love the various themes the author worked in and how you could never tell where it would go next.
The ending when it comes does seem a little rushed and I thought there were elements which were a little unresolved particularly around Irina but if the author wanted to revisit the world and complete the tale I wouldn’t have any complaints.
Overall I would say this is beautifully written and captivating but lacked a little of the emotion I look for when reading. If you love retellings, incredible world building and don’t mind a slow pace and complex characters I would really recommend you pick this up.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with an ARC. This has in no way influenced my review.