Title: Spinning Silver
Author: Naomi Novik
Series: – –
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.
Channeling 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.
Source: ARC from Pan Macmillan via NetGalley
Naomi Novik has done it again, dipping her hand into some darker, less well-known fairytale traditions and drawing out something marvellous. Here we have three young women, each from a different social sphere, proving how strong and intelligent and capable they are as they save their people and all they love from some truly terrible fates.
This isn’t really a Rumplestiltskin retelling, for all that it seems to start off that way. Miryem has a very strict sense of fairness, of paying back what is owed, because her father is a terrible moneylender and they are poor and suffering because of it. But Miryem is smart and determined and can easily harden her heart against those who have done nothing to help her family over the years. Her fairytale is about rash boasts of turning silver into gold (rather than spinning straw into gold) and the frozen magical attention that draws her way.
Wanda’s family is poor and starving and ruled over by a drunken, abusive father. Her mother died in childbirth and was buried with five of her dead babies beneath a white tree. That tree later on gives Wanda gifts to help her survive. Wanda starts off downtrodden and abused, but through the story she grows stronger, learns that love is not something to be afraid of, and finds that she is capable of great things. All thanks to working for Miryem to pay off her father’s debt. Her story isn’t quite as grand and world-changing as both Miryem’s and Irina’s, but in its own way, her personal growth is probably greater than either of the others.
Irina, the third of our heroines, is the ignored daughter of a duke. Her life is dull and overlooked, until her father buys a ring of magical silver from Miryem. From there he has plans to marry her to the Tsar, but the Tsar himself has his own fairy tale issues to deal with, namely his mother was a witch who magicked her way to a crown until they burned her for it, leaving her unearthly beautiful child behind. This is a particularly dark thread, but Irina is just as clever as her father, extremely politically savvy and has a few magical advantages of her own to get away from her murderous husband.
In between all these fairy tale goings on, there’s also an exploration of family – particularly mothers – self-confidence, and faith. I loved that Miryem was Jewish and the way this is viewed by both herself and the other characters. It’s something that guides her actions every bit as much as Irina’s dedication to being tsarina and Wanda’s growing love for her family. I also really loved the Staryk’s kingdom and the way Miryem pits her wits against the king. She is bold and brave and refuses to be cowed, and I loved everything about how that side of things twisted and turned and worked out.
This is an immersive read that drew me into this cold world, where hard work is not always rewarded the way it should be, and magic is more often cruel than kind. Even the fairy tale features rarely end happily. Instead intelligence, quick thinking and strong perseverance are needed to earn every last good thing that happens, along with a willingness to correct mistakes. There are no quick fixes here, no magic-wand waving fairies to make everything better. The pace is slow, but that’s all the better to lure you in, my dear. The characters aren’t always likeable either, but their flaws are understandable and believable, and even the worst characters can have sympathetic traits (mostly). And they all have a chance to grow and change and get better. In all, it’s a compelling tale that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I cannot wait to see what Novik comes up with next.
Spinning Silver is Out Now.
Visit Naomi Novik for more details.