At heart a "romancer" of the medieval variety, Helprin here delivers with panache a difficult, larger-than-life, great-hearted quest novel. His trademark penchants for oddball humor and tall-tale adventuring are tightly focused, and perhaps in no other novel does his unabashed devotion to the Ideal and to Beauty shine with more intensity. Finishing this novel, I was troubled by Helprin's delicate, surgical prick to the heart (and, yes, I knew it was coming). But at the same time, for some hours I floated a few inches above the ground, buoyed by the aesthetic generosity, the irrepressible vision of this novel, the banquet of its gifts.
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.