Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik
Publish Date: July 10, 2018
Published by: Del Rey
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)
**I received an ARC of this from the publisher at BookCon 2018 in return for an honest review.**
Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders… but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed–and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.
But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it’s worth–especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand.
Having fallen in love with Naomi Novik from the first chapter of Uprooted , I knew that I had to read her newest book. Not only was it another fairytale-esque reimagining, but it was going to be about my people, Jews, and I all the more loved her for that. Although it took me some time to really get into this story (how I wish this came out in winter and not summer) I eventually found myself really enjoying the plot and the characters. And while it did not capture my utmost love as much as I wished it would have, it still kept me enchanted throughout the novel.
The first thing I want to say is how much I love Miryem and Irina. When I was first introduced to Miryem, I was afraid I wasn’t going to like her because of how cold she was. I completely understood her reasoning for being so, and for every action that she took, but I just worried about not really connecting with her. But as the story grew, and her plight took hold, I grew to love her immensely. She is strong, capable, willing to do whatever it takes, and loves her family above all else – those who she grew up with and those who become part of her family over the course of the story.
Then there is Irina, who at first seemed like a sad, forgotten quiet Rapuzel-type who was a puppet for her own father’s agenda. But as soon as she put on her crown and discovered her true abilities, she transformed magnificently. I could not get over how clever and manipulative she was, how she spun her own threads of fate to suit her needs, and how she took a situation that she was forced into and made it completely her own to command. While the silver she wore transformed her into a beauty for her people to see, it also made her into a formidable force who wants to protect her people, and whom I easily fell in love with.
There were many, many other characters, almost all of whom had such great depth and interesting aspects to them (Wanda is the third main heroine but I just didn’t connect or care for her as much, but I still liked her as a character), but those two just stuck out to me because I loved them so. I think the only two I had trouble with were the villains of the story – the Staryk king and Mirnatius, the tsar. Both of them came off as being evil in their own ways, with the Staryk being harsh, cold, and bitter towards Miryem, and Mirnatius being a creepy psychopath type who did whatever it took to become tsar and is also extremely vain when it comes to fashion. And while it was clear to me that at least Mirnatius had more to him than was being shown, and eventually the Staryk king showed this too, it took a little too long for this to be revealed. Mirnatius finally got some point-of-view scenes very late into the book, and while I understood the emotions he was feeling in those moments, I didn’t feel like there was enough room for his character growth after that to be satisfying. And then for the Staryk king, who never had a perspective scene, and who was so cryptic in his speech it was a bit a of a struggle to understand sometimes, didn’t reveal until basically the end why he had done everything he had done and put Miryem through what he had. This left me feeling a little unsure about the ending, [because while I could see the potential for character growth with Mirnatius at that point, I still felt uncomfortable with the Staryk king because although his intentions to protect his people were most definitely acceptable, his course of action to do so and his behavior about it was not, and there was just not enough character development shown after that revelation to make me feel like he and Miryem were indeed a good match (hide spoiler)].
Now, for the story itself. Novik once again wove an amazing story together, taking all these seemingly different threads and weaving them together into a tapestry of intrigue and magic. She uses switching point-of-views to introduce different characters and show the different parts of the story that were integral to the whole. And while this worked for me overall, there were a couple of issues I had with it: some character perspectives felt unnecessary, some I wished had come in earlier and been more prevalent (Mirnatius being one in particular – I knew there was more to his position than Irina was seeing), and at some points the order of the point-of-views didn’t feel right or make sense. This last issue occurred mostly during a chunk in the middle, when certain scenes that were happening for one character would overlap with another character, whose same view of the scene or lead into the scene happened several perspectives/chapters beforehand. This may be because this was an ARC I was reading, but it was just something that, while I could follow along once I figured out what was happening to who and when, would have been nice to have in a more chronological order to just really keep the story flowing, instead of feeling like it backtracked a bit at times.
I think one of the strongest things for me was the Jewish representation in the novel, and how close to home so much of it hit. While I might have been lucky to have grown up in an area that had a large Jewish population, so many are not and have experienced the type of things that Miryem and her family had to suffer. Being seen as evil for trying to survive, never really feeling welcome anywhere, always being “other”. Novik did an excellent job showing how Jews have been treated, in so many places in the world, while also showing how Jews treat those we love and those we don’t know quite yet. And to parallel that with the Staryks, and show how Miryem and every other mortal thought them evil, only to discover that they would do the things they did for their people’s survival as well, said so much about how we judge each other based on prejudices.
There were many elements of this book I loved, and some I did not. I loved how it reminded me of both Rumpelstiltskin and Howl’s Moving Castle , I loved Miryem and Irina and the other characters, I loved the storyline and the magic and how the interweaving perspectives brought everything together for one enchanting plot. I do think some of those point-of-view scenes could have happened in a different order, though, and I do wish the character development of Mirnatius and the Staryk king had started sooner in the story. But overall it was another wonderful story by Naomi Novik, one that I could relate to on so many levels, and one which I would definitely recommend.