Meyer expertly evokes a cold and bitter landscape in this novel retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. It was on a bleak winter’s night that a young miller saved a god’s life and was granted a single wish. That wish was for marriage and a child and it was granted. When the miller’s daughter Serilda was born, she was marked with the shapes of gilded wheels around her irises which those who saw her knew was old magic. She was a storyteller, a weaver of truth and enchanting lies: tall tales with sometimes dangerous outcomes.
Her tongue gets the better of her when she encounters the feared Erlking on the night of the Hunger Moon hunt and, in order to save her life, she claims to be able to spin straw into gold. When she is locked in a dungeon and told to spin gold or she and her father will die, she sinks into despair until Gild, the goldspinner, completes the task for her and slowly they begin to fall in love. Fearing another kidnap on the next Hunger Moon she and her father attempt to flee but are caught by the Erlking and her father is killed, as was her mother before him.
Serilda’s adventures now begin in earnest and she must use all her storytelling skills to save herself. Meyer creates imaginative and grotesque creatures, some ghosts, some possessed of half-lives and all under the Erlking’s power in his castle which appears only on nights when the hunt rides. Those who attempt to resist him are woodland creatures, headed up by the Shrub Grandmother, a redoubtable matriarch, who must use what nature offers to counteract the evils of the Erlking.
Gilded is a rich, long book, full of twists and turns, brutality, loss and terror but, most of all, ingenuity and the strength of the human mind. Just when the game seems up Serilda finds a fresh move, a new ally, a clever and compelling story which shifts the balance of power. There is to be a sequel and the end of Gilded sees Gild, Serilda and their unborn child taking the next step in their perilous and unpredictable existence. This is ambitious writing which a confident reader with stamina and a love of fantasy will enjoy.