What if the Wind in the Willows was less of a warm-hearted tale about forest friends and more about a sinister plot to gaslight Mr. Toad? What if the Velveteen Rabbit was a cold-blooded sociopath intent on becoming Real, no matter the cost? The reimagined fairy tales in the Merry Spinster answer these questions and ones I didn't even know I had.
You may know Circe as the original witch, or as the goddess who tempted Odysseus on his legendary journey, or perhaps not at all. You may for a time forget it all, and instead be pulled into the story of her life recounted, told as its own epic, as she struggles to find her own meaning and agency in the realms of men and gods, when she fits in neither. Perdita Weeks narrates with such power and beauty, sweeping you up in every emotion as Circe's story unfolds.
Rather than spin, I find Novik brilliantly weaves this tale, crossing contrasting threads to create a gorgeous tapestry. A wintry world, malevolent fairy creatures, a starving family, a cursed king, and in the middle of it all Miryem, a young Jewish woman forced to take over her father’s money-lending livelihood when his sentimentality leaves her family destitute. This is more than a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, it is a tale worthy of praise all on its own.