This was a highly entertaining mashup, drawing from several familiar sources, but with very much its own unique story to tell. The fairy tale influences range from The Snow Queen to Rumpelstiltskin but with the addition of Tsarist Russia’s history with its Jewish population tossed in too. But the core of the story has to do with three very different women who are each unwillingly matched up with a husband who is repulsive to them, and the means they each take to solve their dilemma.
Wanda, a peasant girl, is being forced into marriage by her drunken and abusive father in exchange for, what else, more drink. Irina, the daughter of a lesser noble, is to be given to the young tsar, who is not the beautiful young man those who see him believe him to be. And Miryem, daughter of a reluctant moneylender, who has taken over the family business, finds that she has an unexpected and unasked for gift, and a very much unexpected prospective husband in return. Thrown unexpectedly in together, they find ways to escape their unwanted fates, at least to the extent that they want to escape them.
The third of the three women, Miryem, has the best storyline, since she has been selected to wed the very reluctant King of the Staryk, a fey and lethal People of Winter. Very much some Rochester/Jane Eyre vibes here, without the mad wife in the attic. (Oh, dear, spoiler alert?) Wouldn’t mind a Part Two, if Novik ever felt like it.