Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
What It’s About:
Miryem is part of a Jewish moneylending family with a successful grandfather and not so successful father. Her father’s lack of business skills leaves their family nearly destitute. Tired of the hunger and cold, Miryem decides to take over her father’s business and turns their fortunes around with her shrewd and intelligent mind. She hires a local peasant, Wanda, who is looking for an escape from their abusive brutish father.
The business is very successful and Miryem begins to boast to the town that she could turn silver into gold. The Staryk king, ruler of the ice kingdom that has a great need for gold, has taken an interest in Miryem’s claims. Now Miryem must defy the Staryk king with the help of her country’s tsarina, Irinia, who has married to a tsar that seems more demon than man.
As the two kingdoms collide, the battle brings out unknown powers and requires much sacrifice from those who wish to survive.
What I liked:
Spinning Silver also has not just one, but three awesome female main characters! The story is told from alternating points of view between Miryem, Wanda, and Irinia. Miryem’s Jewish beliefs is a big part of her life and it influences alot of her decisions in the story. Wanda is a headstrong and hardworking character that is on a mission to build a better life for her and her brothers. Irinia is plain in looks, uses her sharp and clever mind to plot her way to the crown and the salvation of her people. Although the three women have different backgrounds and circumstances, they face the struggle of making a desirable future for themselves by making sacrifices and taking risks.
Another thing that stood out to me was the way the multiple characters in the story blended together in the end. It took some time for the all the character pieces to fit together, but once they did the pacing really takes off in an engaging battle between good and evil. The culminating scenes between the characters had me on the edge of my seat!
What I didn’t like:
While the folklore in this book was interesting, it felt underdeveloped. The book is almost like a fairly tale retelling of Rumplestiltskin but with a different twist. There was not much background of the Staryk people and their kingdom, making it difficult to understand the Staryk king’s actions and the Staryk traditions. The folklore of fire demon character in this story is also given sparse background information, although he is satisfyingly creepy and scary once he builds up his power. There was a hint of a past between the Staryk and this demon that I would have liked to know more about as well, but it was only mentioned briefly. Towards the end they become more interesting as they interact with each other because they are opposite beings as fire and ice.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. The main female characters were complex both on their own and as a team working together to fight against evil. The pacing lost steam when the Staryk and demon were first introduced, but then it all came together with a faster pace towards the end. I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy:
- Fairy tale retellings
- Medieval fantasy stories
- Jewish characters
- Strong female characters
- Good vs evil stories
Fun Fan Art!
It turns out there are quite a bit of fan art out there. Check it out!