Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “Spinning Silver”

Full disclosure: I bought this book way back in July. But I’ve delayed reading it for this simple reason: Naomi Novik’s last book (Uprooted) ruined my life. While I was reading it, I skipped workouts. Forewent human companionship. Stayed up to 3 am reading, when I had to be into work by 7:30 am. All because I.couldn’t.put.Uprooted.down.

Since the moments in adult life when one can just opt out and read are rare, I knew I had to be strategic about cracking Spinning Silver.

But my self-discipline finally cracked. Again, I stayed up stupid late to finish–1:49 am. (Or so my husband told me after I knocked over our shredder in the dark and woke him up.) But I can now report that if Spinning Silver isn’t quite as compulsion-inducing as its predecessor, it’s still darn good. In other words, if it missed the 99 mark, it scored a thoroughly-deserved 98.

Spinning Silver is an incredibly clever retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, with so much of Novik’s own intricate plotting and world-building woven throughout that finding those Rumpelstiltskin references is like spotting a bread crumb along an unfamiliar and alluring path. At the novel’s heart is Miryem, the daughter of a moneylender. Her talent for turning silver to gold draws the terrifying notice of the king of the Staryk, a race of ice fey slowly burying Miryem’s land under endless winter. Her efforts to save herself and her family entangle her fate with that of Wanda, a peasant girl, and Irina, the new bride of the young tsar… a man whose own secret threatens his kingdom and the Staryks’.

Truly, Spinning Silver is a tapestry, interweaving with remarkable dexterity the stories of its three female protagonists: Miryem, Irina, and Wanda. Each has her own color and hue, her own tale to weave and her own heart guiding the weft of her story. Miryem is clever, resourceful, and fiercely devoted to her Jewish people. Although unwillingly crowned, Irina is the ideal queen–determined, clear-eyed, self-sacrificing. Bold and brave, Wanda embodies a quiet strength that reverberates, defying cruelty, holding her small family together. The braiding together of this trio is hugely compelling from a plot standpoint; watching their stories entwine, intersect, and divert is fascinating. From a thematic perspective, too, their bond glitters, brilliantly displaying the power of female friendship in a way that feels modern and timeless. Somehow epic.

Novik does equal justice by her secondary characters, painting them with depth and complexity–even those the reader might initially dismiss as merely villainous, greedy, etc. In both character and story, Novik is judicious in unfolding secrets, balancing a mysterious air with revelations unmasked at the perfect moment. Scenery and imagery alike are haunting and lovely, evocative of Eastern European folk stories and deep winters of ice and stars. The magical world Novik invents is so thoroughly sculpted as to feel real. And very palpably does the menace of the encroaching winter come through the page, with the reader feeling all the fragility of the human realm caught between grappling magical powers. With only one brief lull in the novel’s middle, the rest of Spinning Silver is tightly plotted and intricate, twisting unexpectedly. And, like Uprooted, Spinning Silver‘s conclusion remains unguessable to the very end, when it unfolds with beautiful poignancy.

Novik proves the perfect writer for such a tale. With a voice beautiful and precise, she marries landscape, magic, and story, capturing the enchanting tone so characteristic of fairy stories. And, like all good fairytales, Spinning Silver pairs an engrossing story with piercing explorations of deep themes–family and love, loyalty and debt, devotion and courage.

Would I recommend Spinning Silver? 100%. If you’re a fan of Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy or Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child, this should be your next read. And if you haven’t read it yet, grab Uprooted, too.

Just make sure your calendar is clear first.

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