- Author: Naomi Novik
- Genre: YA Fantasy
- Publication Date: July 10, 2018
- Publisher: Del Ray
CONTENT WARNING: antisemitism, alcoholism, death of a child, death, child abuse, mention of rape
Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s inability to collect his debts has left his family on the edge of poverty — until Miryem takes matters into her own hands. Hardening her heart, the young woman sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold.
When an ill-advised boast draws the attention of the king of the Staryk — grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh — Miryem’s fate, and that of two kingdoms, will be forever altered. Set an impossible challenge by the nameless king, Miryem unwittingly spins a web that draws in a peasant girl, Wanda, and the unhappy daughter of a local lord who plots to wed his child to the dashing young tsar.
But Tsar Mirnatius is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of humans and Staryk alike. Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and her two unlikely allies embark on a desperate quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power, and love.
I’ve heard so much about this book, and finally got the chance to read it. I had a little inkling of what to expect after reading Uprooted, but this had a distinctly more Jewish flavor to it, and much more of a fairy tale feel.
There are three main characters, and more POVs are gradually worked in over the course of the story. Although there is significantly less dialogue, I still enjoyed the style, the different voices of the characters, the individual personalities, and the way that each of the storylines came together over the course of the book.
Each of the three main characters is a smart, strong, and stubborn woman who is determined to make her own way in a life that offers very little options for women. It starts out with Miryem, who I absolutely adored. Despite growing up poor in her small village, she manages to take over her father’s work and become fairly prosperous. She manages to meet Wanda, who is in an even worse situation, and then is introduced to Irina. Each of the characters learns how to find their inner strength:
“Of course I was afraid. But I had learned to fear other things more: being despised, whittle down one small piece of myself at a time, smirked at and taken advantage of.”
I felt like the real strength in this book was in the depth of the relationships that developed. This came across so well in both biological family and found family, and I loved seeing how Miryem and her family had such strong bonds with each other and the people they became close with along the way.
“As she dropped her hand and turned back into the room, our eyes met: we didn’t speak, but for a moment I felt her a sister, our lives in the hands of others. She wasn’t likely to have any more choice in the matter than I did.”
Developing relationships with people outside of the Jewish community wasn’t easy, especially since antisemitism was prevalent throughout the story. I loved seeing how Jewish representation was front and center all the way through the story — from the Mandelstam’s profession to the rituals like saying blessings, speaking a different language than the non-Jewish characters, and how they celebrate weddings.
While there were strong hints of Rumpelstiltskin in this book, it also had a more general fairy tale vibe as well. The presence of a demon and the Staryk as well as magical abilities were an intriguing layer that kept me reading, although the story was dense, somewhat slow moving, and told in a style that was very different from what I usually read. This was a great experience, and I really did enjoy it as much as everyone who recommended it had promised that I would, but I could see how it wouldn’t be for everyone. But I will say that at the very end, I was so happy and also tearing up at the same time. And it left me with a bit of a book hangover.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 8
Categories: Book Review