Title: Spinning Silver
Author: Naomi Novik
Release Date: July 12th 2018
Spinning Silver is a new take on the classic fairytale Rumpelstiltskin, from Naomi Novik, the author of the award-winning Uprooted.
Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father is not a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has left his family on the edge of poverty—until Miryem intercedes. Hardening her heart, she sets out to retrieve what is owed, and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold. But when an ill-advised boast brings her to the attention of the cold creatures who haunt the wood, nothing will be the same again. For words have power, and the fate of a kingdom will be forever altered by the challenge she is issued.
Channelling the heart of the original fairy tale, Naomi Novik deftly interweaves six distinct narrative voices – each learning valuable lessons about sacrifice, power and love – into a rich, multi-layered fantasy.
– Blurb courtesy of goodreads.com
I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
My Thoughts On…
Miryem’s father is a moneylender, but he’s not a very good one. He lends his money to anyone who asks but lets them to put off their repayments which has left his own family in poverty. When her mother falls ill, sick of seeing the villagers profit off her family’s money, Miryem starts collecting what they are owed. She hardens her heart and before long she has taken in all the money her father lost and then some, before long she has a reputation that travels far beyond her village.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fairytale retelling that focuses on Rumpelstiltskin before, but Naomi Novik’s Uprooted is a favourite of mine so I knew this was going to be a great read. Spinning Silver tells the stories of six characters, focusing mainly on Miryem, Wanda – who’s working for Miryem to pay off her father’s debt – and Irina – a Duke’s daughter whose father hopes to ensnare the Tsar. The three stories fit together in this book, and it is Miryem’s beginning as a moneylender which shapes Wanda’s and Irina’s stories.
When the Staryk’s, cold creatures who rule the woods and covert gold, hear of Miryem’s boast their king set her three tasks to prove she really can turn silver into gold. If she fails she will be killed, but if she succeeds she will become the Staryk Queen. As Miryem works to complete the tasks before the deadline, as Wanda works for Miryem to escape her abusive father, as Irina uses the Staryk silver turned to jewellery to ensure the Tsar winter stretches ever longer, and soon the fate of their kingdom balances on the Staryk kings’ whims.
Spinning Silver was definitely an enchanting tale, there was a lot happening in this book and so many stories to tell. As well as reading Miryem’s, Wanda’s and Irina’s POV the story is also told through Wanda’s youngest brother Stepon, Irina’s nurse Margreta and the young Tsar, Mirnatius’s eyes; characters who are on the outside of the magic and challenges surrounding Miryem, Wanda and Irina, but characters who are affected by the decisions and choices they make.
Miryem is a hard character, when her father can’t stand strong even when her mother falls ill Miryem refuses to let the village walk all over them. She’s clever and a good business woman; she has a good head for numbers, as any moneylender’s daughter should, and she turns those numbers into silver and gold for her family. Miryem isn’t afraid of the challenges the Staryk king has set her, she’s determined to master them no matter the cost, but before too long the consequences catch up with her and she’s trapped making bargains with a creature much cleverer than herself.
Wanda was probably my favourite character in this book. She’s shy and kind hearted, her family have lived in poverty beyond what Miryem’s family endured and her father is an abusive man who borrowed from the moneylender to gamble and drink. When Wanda starts working for Miryem she starts becoming more than a simple farm girl; she is trusted with Miryem’s collections around the village, taught letters and numbers, and respected and loved by Miryem’s family.
The relationship between Wanda and her two brothers, Sergey and Stepon, develops a lot throughout the book. In the beginning they’re very much all out for themselves, wanting nothing more than to escape their father’s notice and his fists, but when Sergey is attacked by one of the Staryk it becomes the three of them against the world. They look after one another and keep each other’s secrets, they’re loyal to each other beyond their father and beyond others in the village.
Irina has Staryk blood following through her veins but other than that she is unnoticeable. For most of her life she has been confined to two small rooms with her nurse, but that changes when Miryem brings the Staryk silver turned jewellery to her father’s door. Irina is unexceptional in her father’s eyes but as she leaves her rooms, leaves the world she has been confined to, she is allowed to grow into her own. She’s clever, resourceful and sharp, hiding and protecting herself from the demon who wishes to feast on her, and she’s dedicated to those she loves and the people of her kingdom.
All the characters we meet in this book were wonderfully developed, and a lot of what made this story amazing was seeing them grow. Miryem seems cold at first but she has those she loves who she will do anything and go to any lengths for, Wanda has been beaten down by her father but when she is free from him she turns into a valued and loyal member of Miryem’s family. Irina seems unnoticeable, not beautiful or exceptionally talented, but the magic Miryem’s challenge gives her and the magic in her Staryk blood allows her to become powerful.
In some ways Spinning Silver had the feel of a magical realism book, especially in terms of the world building. A lot of the things that make up this world were explained away as ‘magic’ but it didn’t leave me feeling like the setting was underdeveloped, instead it fit in with the fairytale story Naomi Novik was writing. I don’t think we ever discover what the Staryk really are, we hear of them through the whispers of the villagers and they’re never properly introduced but always present, adding an undercurrent of fear in the lives of all the characters. The setting Spinning Silver had was beautiful though and we’re able to see so much of the world, from Miryem’s tiny village all the way to the Staryk’s kingdom of ice and cold.
Other than Rumpelstiltskin I’m not sure what other fairytales were used to influence Spinning Silver but it’s all been woven together to create a beautiful story. The plot is slow but constant throughout the story, the characters are incredibly developed and the world itself was wonderful to explore. When it comes to fairytale retellings Naomi Novik is going to be an auto-buy author for me.
What did you think of Spinning Silver? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.
All quotes have been taken from an ARC and may differ in the final publication.