Spinning Silver is far more than the Rumpelstiltskin retelling it was marketed as. Although, we can find elements of the fairy tale peppered in the book – greed and vanity, the power of names, cold-hearted demons, and a dying kingdom – Spinning Silver, still stands out as a whole new world of its own.
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.
SPINNING SILVER BY NAOMI NOVIK
Published on July 10th 2018 by Del Rey
Genre: Historical, Magical Realism
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- WOMEN & RELATIONSHIPS
Spinning Silver weaves a story around three women: the moneylender, Miryem, Tsarina Irina, and the peasant, Wanda. In the beginning, the characters are under unpleasant circumstances – each being pushed this way and that like cattle, however, with tiny steps, the women take back control of their lives. In spite of being up against a fire demon and a winter king, the women of Spinning Silver are by no means magical at all. Opportunities do not come their way, instead they create it. This is what I adored about Naomi Novik’s characters; they are so unabashedly ordinary, cunning, and angry women who continually push against the tides.
- THE MOST DREADFUL MONSTERS ARE HUMAN
Just to be clear this doesn’t fall into the “said person has a tragic backstory and it’s okay for him to be an asshole” trope. The monsters in Spinning Silver are just as rich as the main characters; they stand out not for their cruelty but for their ambitions and even their struggle to achieve them. I loved reading those perspectives because, I won’t say it makes them redeemable, but it makes them more understandable.
- ENTERTAINING INTERACTIONS
What happens when a Staryk lord and a mortal girl come together? What about when the tsar you married is actually possessed by a fire demon?
I loved reading those moments where Miryem and the Staryk lord would butt heads. His iron pride and her fiery spirit made for quite the spectacle. I love how they constantly challenged the other, and although a few insults were thrown about, I found it funny. It was cultural clash at its finest. The Staryk culture holds quite an importance on deals, so the notion of gifts or even a simple gratitude is foreign.
When Tsarina Irina finds out her husband is possessed, I was surprised she didn’t run screaming for an exorcist. Rather, she actually strikes a deal with the demon. And let’s not overlook how she one ups Mirnatius’ sass.
Every time the men tried to push the women around, Miryem and Irina slapped their pride aside and put them in their place. #girlpower
- AN IMMERSIVE READ
Spinning Silver is a world you’d want to escape into. As characters move between winter and spring, between friends and antagonists, from family to strangers, you will find yourself hooked on to the lives of every character. In this book minor characters have a touch on the tale’s ending.
- AN ELEGANT RETELLING
In short, this was indeed a cleverly spun retelling. In spite of its simplistic writing, the story is a complex weave that with each deal made, with every magic spun, it builds to an ending that will keep you longing for more. None of the characters are ever truly defined in this tale, but each of them stand vivid in my imagination. These were ordinary characters coming to face with extraordinary circumstances who, let me be honest, did not quite have the skills to tackle their own demons. But they showed up. There is much to learn from Spinning Silver.
My personal adoration, of course, lies with the women in this tale. From Wanda who escaped her abusive household, to Miryem who took on a man’s role and saved her family, to the Tsarina who with cold calculation saved her kingdom. Their actions were simple, they fought with words and temper, they showed compassion when they had no reason to – beauty, riches, and magic were not what saved them. But hope, trust, and in spite of what the Staryk lord said, love.
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