Summary: Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders … but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty — until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed — and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.
But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it’s worth — especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand.
Genre(s): YA, Fantasy, Fairy Tale Retellings
Representation: Jewish narrator + family; socioeconomic diversity
Content warnings: anti-Semitism, physical and verbal abuse, abduction, forced marriage, character death
*These include affiliate links, which means that if you click through and buy a book I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. [Full disclaimers here.]
January 2019 pick for Howl’s Moving Book Club.
This was amazing. I love all the different fairytale/folktale/mythology references — I won’t list them out because a) spoilers and b) I’d definitely miss a lot of them — and how Novik managed to make them all fit together seamlessly without making the story seem cluttered or overly complicated, just as she managed to make each narrator’s voice distinct even without clear chapter headings to differentiate them. (Though it’s arguable whether they’re all necessary to the plot.)
I love, love, love that our three top leads are all “strong” female characters. (We had an interesting debate about the usage of “strong” as a go-to label for female leads, but they’re very different from each other so I’m still using it, for lack of a better descriptor that applies to them all equally.) I did feel that they had unequal shares in the narrative at different points, but I think it goes to that aforementioned balance so it only bothers me slightly. I won’t get too deep into how exactly each of them takes control of their own story, because their journey is just as important as their destination and I wouldn’t want to give too much away, but it’s an incredible thing to behold.
And considering the limited cast and settings, it’s amazing how much diversity there actually is in this book. Miryem and her family are Jewish (and it’s extremely important to the narrative!), Wanda and her brothers are poor and being raised by a physically and verbally abusive single father, Irina is the daughter of a duke who has both a stepmother and a nurse as a mother figure, and the secondary/tertiary/minor characters are a mix as far as class (nobility/commoners/servants) and even race (Staryk/human/other), and the issues of bigotry, prejudice, and systemic inequality are examined throughout.
I’m realizing now that while I read a lot of fantasy/sci-fi, I lean more towards urban fantasy and historical fantasy rather than high fantasy, but yeah, in case you couldn’t tell — I loved this book.