Naomi Novik’s latest novel is currently my favorite by her. It’s very strong, well written, and avoids the minor issues I had with Uprooted. There is a bit as it gets going where the number of viewpoint characters increase from one to three, and the novel threatens to break into three, but the three separate plots very quickly feed back into each other again and made whole.

In fact, my only real problem with the novel is that the number of viewpoints continues to slowly get larger for the rest of the book, and I had some trouble telling just who was talking. These viewpoints made their scenes more effective, as the way it gets told adds more power and impact, but I might have been just as happy keeping things a little simpler. And, at the end, things fold back down to the original viewpoint, and the main character, Miryem.

The atmosphere of the story is extremely well done. Novik really gets what makes Eastern European folk tales work. It doesn’t get into some of the creepy horror-vibe of Uprooted, but the impoverished countryside, the ice-spirits that come with winter, all really work here. Surprisingly, when the book expands scope, and gets into the politics of the realm of Lithvas, those also really work, and make sense, instead of feeling a bit simplified after the careful work on the overall atmosphere.

It adds up to something that feels a bit like a fairy tale (it is supposed to be a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, but any adherence to that concept was left on the cutting room floor in the first draft), but peopled with real people (all too real on occasion, like the depiction of a family suffering with an abusive father), and a real world. It all adds up to a great read.