This is a novel that I don’t really need to explain too much because I have to imagine for a lot of readers on this website, it’s already on their radar. The story here takes place more or less in the same world as her previous novel Uprooted, a middle ages version of Poland where the magic of myth and legends function alongside history and lived-culture. So in this world, there’s a fairy world, but there’s also Judaism, for example. The story is told initially through three main voices, or really two, but a third primary voice enters about 1/4 the way through and three more come later, especially as they’re needed to tell important elements of the story or provide an alternative perspective. The three main voices are Miriyam, a moneylender’s daughter, who takes over her father’s business because he’s being taken advantage of because of his good nature and because of anti-Semitism, Wanda, a drunk’s daughter, who is conscripted into the moneylenders’ household because of her father’s debt, and Irina, a noblewoman, who marries the Czar. In addition, we also get a few more. I found the three distinct main voices to be interesting, but not fully differentiated, and the other voices to be more or less throwaway. I think a fourth 3rd person voice might have made more sense.
The story here is that there’s a fairy kingdom that seems to be creating more winter than usual for the human world and that puts pressure and stress on the farming and economy. There arises a need for Miriyam, who is able to turn silver into gold, to live in the fairy world helping them create this resources. While this is happening Irina becomes aware that her husband has enlisted a demon’s help to fight the fairy world under the promise of ridding the world of the over-encroaching winter. These various plotlines clash and intersect in the end.
Ultimately this is a very rich novel full of wonderful writing, but also one that I felt was broken into four acts kind of inexplicably as opposed to three balanced ones. I think the book is strongest when the voices are distinct, and weakest when they’re not. I also found myself kind of bored for chunks of the novel. So while the writing and world are rich, sometimes the story is not.