Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
From Goodreads: 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.
Thanks to Netgalley for sending me an ARC of this book in return for an honest review.
Everyone and their grandparents in the book community seems to be excited for Spinning Silver. Novik’s other release, Uprooted, a few years back was a glorious and descriptive fairy tale retelling, a kind of mix of Beauty and the Beast with a splash of Rapunzel thrown in for good measure. I really enjoyed that one, so I was looking forward to having pre-release access to Novik’s latest release. And as soon as I heard it was inspired by the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin [A.K.A. my favourite ever character on OUAT] I knew I had to read it.
Spinning Silver wasn’t quite what I expected. It was easy enough to get into, and Miryem’s character was incredibly sympathetic as she struggles to deal with her family’s poverty because her dad is too generous a money-lender. She was an interesting character, and I could almost feel my heart beating faster and faster as she survived one calamity after another. She came across as a really strong and tenacious character, and I quite enjoyed reading her chapters.
The other characters were also interesting, and I wanted to know how things wrapped up for them at the end of the novel, but I struggled a lot with the different perspective chapters. After a while, we shift from Miryem to Wanda and Irena and the tsar and Wanda’s brother and other perspectives I’ve probably forgotten about in the last few days since I read this book. And that was somewhat less thrilling, because I think, jumbled together like that [there wasn’t a particular pattern or order to who would be narrating the next chapter] it became pretty hard to distinguish whose chapters I was reading. In addition, this multi-perspective thing was complicated because it meant the plot got very convoluted in places. Stories and characters overlap and merge into one another, with characters who were strangers meeting each other later in the novel but for me it just meant that, after a while, everything became a giant coincidence. It just so happened that Miryem went to a house where Wanda happened to be. It just so happened that Irena meets Miryem. Writing this, it sounds a bit unfair, because it seems odd to me that I can complain about the coincidence of characters meeting when they’re all strangers who appear in the same book, because obviously as characters in the same book they’re as likely to meet up as Nina is with Kaz in Six of Crows or Blue is with Gansey in The Raven Cycle. Of course there’s a chance they’re going to meet, if they’re in the same book. But it still just seems a little bit too coincidental in places for me to really sink my teeth into.
The other thing that I found odd, which I only really understood after reading through reviews on Goodreads, is the frequent mentions of Jews in Spinning Silver. The book is a fantasy novel, set in a country which is a sort of kind of Russia [at least that was what I was getting from terms like Irinushka and tsar] but it isn’t actually Russia or any real place. So it seemed a bit odd to me that we had a make-believe fantasy country but a real religion and culture thrown in there. But yes, we see frequent references to Judaism, with Miryem and her family practising the faith. As the Goodreads review I read [the author of this post is called Emily May if you want to read her review] pointed out, Novik herself is of Lithuanian-Jewish descent, and the book uses that whole Rumpelstiltskin tale to tackle Jewish moneylender stereotypes. There are several Rumpelstiltskin type characters in Spinning Silver, but perhaps the prime example is Miryem herself, which I found incredibly fascinating. I won’t go into too much detail because spoilers, but it makes a lot of sense in retrospect and it just goes to show the amount of layers and symbolism in this book.
One of the other things the novel does do well is the setting. It has a very fairytale kind of vibe to it, with dark twisted lands, mentions of evil witches, and the cold, snowy landscape of Eastern Europe serves as a perfect backdrop. There’s so many atmospheric and creepy descriptions in this book that I couldn’t pick just one example, but they are all so gorgeous and intricate.
All in all, I’m going to give Spinning Silver a 7/10 stars. It was a really interesting book, and I was gripped by the opening, but I felt a little bit lost by all the different perspectives and confusing and sometimes convoluted plot. It could have done with some chapters or events cut out, but I really enjoyed reading Miryem’s sections and I did grow to be invested in all of the other main characters too. I also find it fascinating how the book uses a traditional fairytale to subvert and challenge stereotypes, as that is something I haven’t seen too often in fantasy books. I’ve also not seen a whole lot about the Jewish faith in fantasy books either, so this was a welcome and interesting addition to my kindle.
Spinning Silver has just been released in the UK on the 12th July, so you can now grab a copy for yourself if this review nudged it onto your TBR pile 😀
Have you read this book or are planning to read it? I’d love to know your thoughts! Leave them in the comment section below if you’re interested in talking more about the book.