“Because that’s what the story’s really about: getting out of paying your debts.”
Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father isn’t a very good one. When the winters get colder, the Staryk closer, and her mother sicker, she lets her heart grow cold and does what her father cannot do. Soon she is making more money than they’ve ever had before, and she’s able to turn silver into gold. But when the Staryk overhear her boasting in the winter forest, she’s up for a challenge that might end in her death..
I posted a review on this book but I reread it again this week and I thought my review just didn’t do the book justice, so here’s a new one!
It still grieves me that this book, this ultra wintery book that makes you shiver and feel the cold, was published in the middle of summer. In the middle of the hottest summer my country had ever had, even. This is the kind of book you need to read on a cold winter night, preferably under a blanket in a warm room and with snow falling behind the windows. Not in the middle of a heatwave, like I did at first. But now I reread it during a cold spell and it makes it so much better. I loved it before, but I feel like I’m now better able to see why I love it so much.
I think it’s perfect in every way, the writing, the characters, the story, the world building! Especially the world building. Novik takes fairytale tropes and uses them in such a new way, like she makes them up on the spot. I really love the intricate details and the complex world of the Staryk, and the way she uses what’s a common thing in fairytales, deals and debts, the fairies taking things very literally, to paint such a vivid picture of a fantasy culture. But also the human side of the story and the way the details bring this cold, Russian world so vividly to life.
The way the story unfolds and keeps unfolding, in such a way that you cannot guess what’s going to happen, is magnificent. Because although every blurb and every summary telling you about what she book is sort of about talks about Miryem, there are many more plot lines to follow. The story is so much bigger and broader and intricate than you’d expect at first, and I won’t say too much about it because I think you’ll have the best effect if you into it not knowing too much. And anyway, I could never describe everything, because this book is so full of story.
Something that I hadn’t expected was how much politics there is in this book. We follow characters from wildly different stations in society, from the lowest to the highest and the outsider too, and we get to be at the Russian court with these badass characters and save the country with marriages and alliances, besides all the magic and fighting the monster stuff!
There are three main characters, but you get the point of view of more characters than that and they all feel very important. And they are all important, the way their stories and plot lines are woven together is almost like magic. It seems like there are three separate plot lines that happen apart from each other, but there are more and they’re all connected in such a way it’s almost like colors on a painting.
The characters themselves are also really amazing, the way they feel real. What I especially like is that it’s mostly about these three young women, who all live such different lives, but are all ready to just deal with whatever is thrown at their feet, and do what is right. But they’re much more three-dimensional than that, they’re afraid and selfish, sometimes weak and proud, but they’re also really, really brave and resourceful. And so practical. More often than not characters are not so very practical, for the drama I suppose, but these are, especially where it’s so badly needed. And the minor characters, or rather, the characters who get a little less screen time, are also really interesting and complex.
I also really love the writing, the way it’s almost.. smooth. I can’t find another way to explain it. It’s just rolls off the page and into your brain like it’s the most natural thing. But there’s also a certain quality to it that almost makes it feel like it was translated from another language, which it isn’t, but it feels like that. A certain cadence and a certain way on the length of the sentences that makes it feel not entirely English, which adds so much layer to the story, like it’s actually from the place (I think Russia?) where it takes place! As if they’re actually eye witness accounts of these people just translated into English. Something I also really think is impressive, is that every point of view is written ever so slightly different, so that you can tell it’s a different person speaking. There are no headers indicating whose point of view it is, but the narration is unique to every character so that you recognize the different voice anyway. Exemplary writing, really.
There’s so much more I want to say about this book, but I will only spoil it for those who haven’t read it yet, because it’s so difficult with this book to talk about the plot without giving too much away. But I just want to mention how amazing the villain is in this book. It’s so, so unexpected, and so well done, full of nuance and grey areas. I won’t say anymore, in fear of spoiling it, but trust me, it’s great.
Trigger warnings for this book: on page domestic violence