The real story isn’t half as pretty as the one you’ve heard. The real story is, the miller’s daughter with her long golden hair wants to catch a lord, a prince, a rich man’s son, so she goes to the moneylender and borrows for a ring and a necklace and decks herself out for the festival. And she’s beautiful enough, so the lord, the prince, the rich man’s son notices her, and dances with her, and tumbles her in a quiet hayloft when the dancing is over, and afterwards he goes home and marries the rich woman his family has picked out for him. Then the miller’s despoiled daughter tells everyone that the moneylender’s in league with the devil, and the village runs him out or maybe even stones him, so at least she gets to keep the jewels for a dowry, and the blacksmith marries her before that firstborn child comes along a little early.
Because that’s what the story’s really about: getting out of paying your debts. That’s not how they tell it, but I knew. My father was a moneylender, you see.
The setting: This is a Rumplestiltskin retelling set in a fictional country in Eastern Europe. From there the story takes us to the kingdom of the Staryk, a race of ice demons.
The plot: It takes a while to get going, but there’s not a single wasted page here. Miryem’s father is not a very good moneylender; he has been so generous to his creditors that he has left the family on the edge of poverty. Miryem intervenes, setting out to collect what is owed. She gives people fair prices for whatever they can give in payment, but she is strict, and she has one creditor send his daughter Wanda to work for her to pay off his debts, first as a maid and then as an assistant t help Miryem with debt collection.
One night, speaking to her mother as they ride home through the snow on a sleigh, she boasts of her (metaphorical) ability to “turn silver into gold” through the wealth she has brought int the household. The King of the Staryk challenges Miryem to turn his silver into gold. If she fails, her life is forfeit; if she succeeds, she will become his queen.
Characters & relationships: I liked all the characters! I won’t describe all of them because it would probably give away too much, but they were all well characterized and there were some interesting conflicts between the characters. There is a fair amount of moral ambiguity for the characters as well and I thought it was well handled. I was a little skeptical about the way the romantic relationships worked out in the end, but romance was not a focus of the story so I didn’t mind too much.