Publishing year: 2018
Ever since discovering the Temeraire series through His Majesty’s Dragon, Naomi Novik quickly became one of my favourite authors. Her detailed, intricate world building and writing of endearing, layered characters was also present in her stand alone fantasy Uprooted, which along with His Majesty’s Dragon is among my favourite novels. Naturally, expectations for Spinning Silver were high. Very high.
Spinning Silver is about three young ladies who take matters into their own hands. Miryem is the daughter of a family of moneylenders, but her father is pretty terrible at collecting debts which leaves his family in poverty. Miryem, resentful of her poverty and the selfish people who owe her father money but refuse to pay, decides to collect the money herself — and she’s very successful. Unfortunately, her ability to make profit draws the attention of the King of the Staryk, effectively the King of Winter. Wanda is a poor girl with an abusive father who ends up working for Miryem to pay off her father’s debt, but ends up on the run when one of her brothers commits a crime by accident. Finally, there is Irina, the daughter of a noble who weds her to the cruel Tsar — who harbours a secret that could have disastrous consequences. These three stories become intertwined as the girls need to negotiate their respective dangerous situations by being clever, and it was definitely engaging to watch the girls grow in the face of adversity, so to speak. Novik has written very strong and layered female characters here.
These three stories have a recurring theme: Spinning Silver is very much about paying off debts and owing something. Novik very loosely based this novel on the Rumpelstiltskin fairytale, and you can definitely trace its origins and themes despite the author putting her own spin on the famous story. There is also a fairytale-like quality to the story; even excluding the Staryk (which are kind of like winter fae), there is also a lot of mysterious forests and magic present in this book. Though Uprooted had a much more enchanted feel, the magic is still present in Spinning Silver. Finally, there are also some surprising twists and turns along the way, though to mention them in any detail would spoil them.
No story is perfect, however, and neither is Spinning Silver. With all these different perspectives, I had some initial difficulty with connecting to the story and characters. I also didn’t like that one of the main confrontations was written through the perspective of Wanda’s little brother. Though his voice is suitably distinct and childlike, I didn’t feel very strongly about this character and I felt that the final confrontation in his voice dampened the scene a bit. Finally, I felt that the romance between Miryem and the Staryk King felt forced. Though I see why she made certain choices (because the consequences would be terrible), I don’t think the romance was particularly needed, especially because the Staryk King was still a massive jerk. It kind of felt like a throwback to Uprooted‘s The Dragon, but not as well done.
Still, this is nitpicking. If you have enjoyed Uprooted, or enjoy fairytale-like fantasy in general that has well-written female characters and intricate world building, you’ll definitely enjoy Spinning Silver as well!