Review | Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Glittering fantasy rooted in the real. 4/5 stars.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Thank you to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s too kind-hearted to collect his debts. They face poverty, until Miryem hardens her own heart and takes up his work in their village.

Her success creates rumours she can turn silver into gold, which attract the fairy king of winter himself. He sets her an impossible challenge – and if she fails, she’ll die. Yet if she triumphs, it may mean a fate worse than death. And in her desperate efforts to succeed, Miryem unwittingly spins a web which draws in the unhappy daughter of a lord.

Irina’s father schemes to wed her to the tsar – he will pay any price to achieve this goal. However, the dashing tsar is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of mortals and winter alike.

Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and Irina embark on a quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power and love.

My take:

I jumped at the chance to read Spinning Silver after being impressed by Novik’s last novel: Uprooted. Everything I enjoyed about that book is present in her latest offering, and with Spinning Silver I think she’s improved on many of the strengths of her previous story.

Spinning Silver is an imaginative take on the Rumpelstiltskin story we all know, but while readers will recognise elements from the traditional tale, this is an original and expansive story which marries the most fantastical tropes (demons and magic mirrors to name two) with issues that are sadly all too realistic (including domestic abuse and antisemitism).

Novik takes the fairy tale and right from the off she uses it in ingenious ways to relate the story of three young women and their families. Her narrative is told from various viewpoints, but we see events mostly from the perspective of the three main female characters who are all brave and resourceful. This was my favourite thing about the book: all these women find their gender puts them at a disadvantage, but none of them wait to be rescued and instead use their courage, intelligence and willlingness to work hard to get the best outcome for themselves and those they care about. These characters form a solid, believable core around which all the magical elements are just window dressing.

Although that’s not to dismiss the world Novik creates, which is enchanting in its textures and details whether she is leading us through the country, city or icy other world of the Staryk.

My only criticism is that about two-thirds through I felt the story had grown over-complicated with too many viewpoint characters and subplots which caused the plot to drag slightly. However, this was a small price to pay for getting to spend time with great characters you really root for and enjoying the pleasing twists and turns of the story.

Overall: fans of Uprooted and readers who like fantasy tales to have engaging characters with their feet firmly planted in the real will enjoy Spinning Silver.


Claire Huston / Art and Soul

 

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