Thank you, Jamie for sending me a copy of Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik for free in exchange for an honest review
Some spoilers I’m afraid
This is the first standalone book I’ve read by Naomi since reading the Temeraire series. Naomi Novik has the ability to write a wonderfully original fantasy that reads like a long lost Grimm or Folklore fairy-tale. Spinning silver has the Eastern European feel of Uprooted and I know people have read both together. I will admit that it took me a little while to get into Spinning Silver but once the book had me it gave me such a feeling of wonder and discovery. The reason I wanted to read Spinning Silver because as you guys know I love a good retelling and this is loosely based on the Rumpelstiltskin fairy-tale.
If you strip Spinning Silver down to its core it is a story about women who refuse to accept the brutality of the men who seek to overpower them, the power of family bonds and the conscious choices made to protect the ones you love.
Spinning Silver is a brilliant take on the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin set in a charming Russian inspired fantasy world that uniquely entwines magic, myth and mystery making the plot of Spinning Silver wonderfully intricate. This is not a tale about love; it is one about survival in a cut-throat world where the rich and powerful exploit the poor and helpless. The peasants starve in the winter as their lands are raided by the mystical Staryk whilst their Tsar basks in his own splendour and wealth. The characters must face otherworldly challenges such as demonic possession and the threat of a never-ending winter, as well as the real dangers such as poverty, prejudice and domestic abuse. Spinning Silver’s heroine Miryem is a moneylender’s daughter and in all honesty her father isn’t a very good moneylender so now the family is on the brink of starvation. When Miryem mother becomes ill, Miryem’s patience with her father’s lack of concern finally comes to an end. As the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, she should be living in modest wealth. Instead, the money her father lends out never makes it back leaving them poor. While they go hungry, other men dower their daughters with their loaned coin. So Miryem takes it upon herself to get the money back, going from door to door, demanding payment from all those who owe debts to her father. Soon there is food on the table, they have a floor made of wood and they have Wanda whose father, was unable to pay, so his daughter is working off his debt as their maid. (An attempt at a spoiler-free plot)
The number three is a prominent theme throughout this book which helps reinforces the magic within the book. These three girls, with their mothers, forced into their three marriages, all come together to create a beautiful story that is both whimsical and feminist. The characters in this novel are amazing, vibrant and believably flawed. I loved the way Naomi is able to capture the reality of an era in which women could be expected to be treated as little more than chattel, and yet create three clever, talented young ladies who work within and around the confines of their environment to excel.
The story is told from the perspective of multiple characters, I counted six different perspectives. The only little hiccup I have with the book is that all of the Narrators speak in the first person without any signposting of who they are to help the reader distinguish between them. I’m sure I read somewhere that in the ARCs that each individual Narrator had a different symbol, this might be hear-say but I think it would have helped. I wasn’t aware there was going to be multiple perspectives so when it first switched I was a little confused and has to reread the last page again. Having said that, the emotional atmosphere of the book stays clear and compelling, even as they form and betray one alliance after another.
Even though there are multiple perspectives the story is told mainly by Miryem, Wanda and Irina.
Miryem - is strong, and relentless and cares for her family and their safety and health
Irina - has been born into royalty but has never known love from her blood family. Irina is still determined to save her people, by any means necessary
Wanda - is a girl who has had to be strong, because it’s the only life she has ever known. taking care of her brothers and trying to please a father who is impossible to please.
I respect Naomi’s exploration of the bigotry of the times. Miryem, as a young Jewish woman, knows that plenty of people despise her for no reason other than her birth and latch on to any excuse for their hatred. Naomi is of Lithuanian-Jewish descent, used this to challenge the Jewish moneylender stereotype and explore the antisemitism surrounding it. It's clever, and I loved it.