Spinning Silver — Naomi Novik

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

TITLE: Spinning Silver
AUTHOR: Naomi Novik
RELEASES: July 10th, 2018; Del Rey
GENRE: Fantasy
AGE RANGE: Adult

SYNOPSIS: Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders… but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed–and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.

But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it’s worth–especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand.

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I’ve had Naomi Novik’s work on my reading list for a long time, but this was my first time picking up anything by her. I loved the Rumpelstiltskin story as a child, so when I heard that she was writing a retelling of it, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy—and now, it made me wonder how I ever lived without the incredible worlds of magic and fantasy she crafts.

I wasn’t sorry they didn’t like me, I wasn’t sorry I had been hard to them. I was glad, fiercely glad.

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The story alternates perspectives, primarily between the women in the story, with its focus resting mainly on Miryem (the tax collector’s daughter), Wanda (Miryem’s hired help), and Irina (the local duke’s daughter). Gradually, we also see perspectives from the tsar, Wanda’s youngest sibling, and Irina’s nursemaid, and while the shifts in narrators offer potential for chaos and disjointed storytelling, Naomi Novik shows off every bit of the necessary skill to make it work.

They would have devoured my family and picked their teeth with the bones, and never been sorry at all. Better to be turned to ice by the Staryk, who didn’t pretend to be a neighbor.

Miryem is by far my favorite character in this story: she is cold, clever, and ruthless when she needs to be, but never without justification, and never unfairly. Her perspective is not only the one I enjoyed the most for entertainment’s sake (especially when she interacts with the winter feyfolk, the Staryk), but also for the empowerment her narrative offers. Miryem’s family is Jewish, and there’s a lot of commentary made throughout the story to remind the reader of the pains Jews have been through and the judgments they have faced, and continue to face, in their daily lives.

“My people will go into the flame with their names locked fast in their hearts; you will not have that of them, nor me.”

More than anything, though, I think Spinning Silver is a story of feminism and independent, strong-willed women. Each of our three most important narrators suffer under a man who has, intentionally or otherwise, controlled and/or ruined their life: for Miryem, it’s the lazy father who forced them into starvation; for Wanda, it’s the abusive, drunkard father who wants to sell her off for spirits; and for Irina, it’s the controlling, uncaring father and the terrifying man he wants to marry her off to. Despite their respective circumstances, these young women all learn how to work together and to fight their way out of one mess after another.

But it was the same choice, every time. The choice between the one death and all the little ones.

Beyond the representation and strength, Spinning Silver is just a damn good fantasy tale. It mimics the Rumpelstiltskin story just enough to draw in old fans, but Novik’s writing takes liberties endlessly to make it her very own story. The writing voice in and of itself is magnificent; I found myself highlighting so many passages just because the phrasing she uses and the scenery she paints gave me chills. This is also one of the most atmospheric wintry stories I’ve ever read in my life.

“A power claimed and challenged and thrice carried out is true; the proving makes it so.”

If I haven’t convinced you yet, I’ll also tell you that there’s a delightful enemies-to-lovers twist (you’ll have to read it to find out which girl it involves, though, because I’m not telling!), sweet families and sibling bonding moments for days, and so much tension that I’m positive you won’t want to put it down until you’ve found out how it all ends.

Because that’s what the story’s really about: getting out of paying your debts.

Trigger warnings for anti-Semitism, sexism, parental abuse, family death, and alcoholism.

Thank you so much to Del Rey for providing me with this beautiful finished copy in exchange for an honest review!

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Just a 25-year-old trying to juggle motherhood, grad school, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

26 thoughts on “Spinning Silver — Naomi Novik

  1. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this because I’m not always a huge fan of fairytale retellings but it sounds amazing and I think I’ll have to check it out after all. Thanks for the great review!

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