Published by: Macmillan
ISBN 13: 9781509899029
Published: July 2018
Format reviewed: Paperback
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: Uprooted (not the same series, but same author, same feel)
Miryem is the daughter of a moneylender, and they’re hated in their small town… even though her father has loaned money to nearly everyone when they were in need, and even though he rarely even tries to collect, they sneer and treat them poorly whenever they’re given the chance. When Miryem’s mother falls ill and is close to death, Miryem takes it upon herself to go to each and every house that owes them to seek a few coins and set everyone up on payment plans. What her father cannot do, she can. And though it worries her parents to see her so cold, she saves their house. If the townspeople are going to hate them anyway, it may as well be with everyone’s money where it should rightfully be.
Miryem does so well that she can hire the help of another girl in the village, Wanda, who suffers an abusive father and is glad to be out of his house. They move up and up in the world, able to do repairs to their little home, and then hire Wanda’s younger brother to look after their new goats to disguise the fact they’re taking them in to be able to feed them properly and escape the wrath of the father.
Soon Miryem is visiting her grandfather who is the best moneylender within reasonable travelling distance and Wanda is able to do simple collecting errands in her absence. Unfortunately the townspeople aren’t the only ones who take notice at Miryem’s ability to turn silver into gold, and she wins the attention of the Staryk, who are the magical race in this book. They bring the winter, they alone travel on the magical silver road (anyone else who wanders onto it are lost), and they seek gold more than anything. The Staryk King turns up to Miryem, stopping time and those around her and able to make them quickly forget any strange brush from their memories within moments, hands her a bag of silver and says he will be back to collect the gold or her life.
Through being canny and understanding those around her, Miryem takes it to Isaac, the jewellery maker who melts the silver down and turns it into an enticing ring, then they take this to the local Duke who buys it immediately for a princely sum.
The problem with this is that the Staryk king rewards one successful deal with another, and then another, and he says for completing all of his tasks he will make her his Queen. Miryem and Isaac make next a necklace, and finally, a crown, and the Duke buys them all. they have a peculiar effect on the mortals around them who become bewitched by the Staryk silver, and the Duke uses all three to make his daughter, Irina, engaging enough for the tsar to want her hand in marriage.
All of these women become POV characters, along with Irini’s nurse, Magreta, and later, a few male characters such as the terrible tsar who was bargained long ago to take in the spirit of a demon who controls him once the sun goes down.
So many paragraphs already and so little of the plot shared… it’s marvelous, truly wonderful. Inspired by the Polish fairytales of her childhood, Novik takes a collection of characters and makes you care deeply about each and every one of them. Somehow, also the tsar. And the Staryk King. And his subjects. And the animals in the winter.
This is another book that I’ll need to buy in the fanciest edition possible just to wrap in plastic and gaze at lovingly for the simple fact it’ll give me joy. And buy multiple copies of to throw at people. It really is just that good.