Spinning Silver

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 17 Jul 2018

Member Reviews

This book is a kind of Rumplestiltskin retelling and one I was really excited to read. Miryem is rumoured to be able to turn silver into gold and as the rumour spreads, the Fairy King of Winter gets involved and sets her a task to complete. If she fails she will die. If she triumphs a fate worse than death awaits. 

The writing in this book is great but perhaps a little over descriptive in parts and lacking in action in others. There are a lot of characters in this book and many of them get their own point of view so if this is something you enjoy this book will be perfect. 

Miryem's character is well written and as a reader, I was glued to the pages as she survived one thing after another. She's a strong character and her chapters were a joy to read. With so many characters though it was a little hard to follow after a while. 

There's a lot to love about this story and at times the writing was absolutely gorgeous. The story drew me in and the magical atmosphere captured my heart. I would have given the book five stars if it weren't for all the different character POVs as these did get a little confusing.
Was this review helpful?
Spinning Silver was a book I was desperate to love and enjoy, and for a while I did. I think where Spinning Silver really shines is the beginning and the end. For me, the middle was where I really struggled. I got to the point with the story where I just wanted it to be over if I’m honest, the characters began to bore me a little and I thought the pace slowed down to slower than a walk.  I was kinda chomping at the bit for something to happen or just anything exciting to happen. There is definitely a lot more description than action in this book.

I loved the premise of this book and I thought that there was definite potential for the storyline. I thought the way the story was framed as a Rumplestiltskin retelling was well done and the links were well distinguished in the story. I definitely loved the culture that was woven all the way through this story and the way I recognised some of it and learnt an awful lot. PLUS it wasn’t thrown in your face as some books will but was subtle and well written. To be honest, I have nothing bad to say about the actual writing, I think this book is beautifully written and the world artfully crafted, the pacing was just a little off for me.

The part where Spinning Silver went wrong for me was the fact that there were SO many characters and most of them have their own point of view which in some cases added something to the story and others just added to the word count and didn’t really added to the story. I just got to the point where I wanted to find out what happened in the end because I was so invested but really couldn’t read any more of the different point of views.

I would have loved without giving too much away for the ending to be more developed than it was. I think having more about how everything ended and the measures that were taken to get to the solution that was reached. I was way more interested in the politics and everything surrounding that then some of the characters and their stories. It just felt that the ending was a little rushed and I just wasn’t satisfied. Which was a shame really, I just wished I could have switched the focus of the ending and the middle.

I don’t know whether I would recommend this book because I don’t know whether I will be picking it up again. The weird thing is even with all my issues with the story I wouldn’t rule out picking it up again and I’m even considering going out to grab a physical copy so I can have it on my shelves. So completely mixed feelings on this one!
Was this review helpful?
Thanks to Netgalley for sending me an ARC of this book in return for an honest review.

Everyone and their grandparents in the book community seems to be excited for Spinning Silver. Novik’s other release, Uprooted, a few years back was a glorious and descriptive fairy tale retelling, a kind of mix of Beauty and the Beast with a splash of Rapunzel thrown in for good measure. I really enjoyed that one, so I was looking forward to having pre-release access to Novik’s latest release. And as soon as I heard it was inspired by the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin [A.K.A. my favourite ever character on OUAT] I knew I had to read it.

Spinning Silver wasn’t quite what I expected. It was easy enough to get into, and Miryem’s character was incredibly sympathetic as she struggles to deal with her family’s poverty because her dad is too generous a money-lender. She was an interesting character, and I could almost feel my heart beating faster and faster as she survived one calamity after another. She came across as a really strong and tenacious character, and I quite enjoyed reading her chapters.

The other characters were also interesting, and I wanted to know how things wrapped up for them at the end of the novel, but I struggled a lot with the different perspective chapters. After a while, we shift from Miryem to Wanda and Irena and the tsar and Wanda’s brother and other perspectives I’ve probably forgotten about in the last few days since I read this book. And that was somewhat less thrilling, because I think, jumbled together like that [there wasn’t a particular pattern or order to who would be narrating the next chapter] it became pretty hard to distinguish whose chapters I was reading. In addition, this multi-perspective thing was complicated because it meant the plot got very convoluted in places. Stories and characters overlap and merge into one another, with characters who were strangers meeting each other later in the novel but for me it just meant that, after a while, everything became a giant coincidence. It just so happened that Miryem went to a house where Wanda happened to be. It just so happened that Irena meets Miryem. Writing this, it sounds a bit unfair, because it seems odd to me that I can complain about the coincidence of characters meeting when they’re all strangers who appear in the same book, because obviously as characters in the same book they’re as likely to meet up as Nina is with Kaz in Six of Crows or Blue is with Gansey in The Raven Cycle. Of course there’s a chance they’re going to meet, if they’re in the same book. But it still just seems a little bit too coincidental in places for me to really sink my teeth into.

The other thing that I found odd, which I only really understood after reading through reviews on Goodreads, is the frequent mentions of Jews in Spinning Silver. The book is a fantasy novel, set in a country which is a sort of kind of Russia [at least that was what I was getting from terms like Irinushka and tsar] but it isn’t actually Russia or any real place. So it seemed a bit odd to me that we had a make-believe fantasy country but a real religion and culture thrown in there. But yes, we see frequent references to Judaism, with Miryem and her family practising the faith. As the Goodreads review I read [the author of this post is called Emily May if you want to read her review] pointed out, Novik herself is of Lithuanian-Jewish descent, and the book uses that whole Rumpelstiltskin tale to tackle Jewish moneylender stereotypes. There are several Rumpelstiltskin type characters in Spinning Silver, but perhaps the prime example is Miryem herself, which I found incredibly fascinating. I won’t go into too much detail because spoilers, but it makes a lot of sense in retrospect and it just goes to show the amount of layers and symbolism in this book.

One of the other things the novel does do well is the setting. It has a very fairytale kind of vibe to it, with dark twisted lands, mentions of evil witches, and the cold, snowy landscape of Eastern Europe serves as a perfect backdrop. There’s so many atmospheric and creepy descriptions in this book that I couldn’t pick just one example, but they are all so gorgeous and intricate.

All in all, I’m going to give Spinning Silver a 7/10 stars. It was a really interesting book, and I was gripped by the opening, but I felt a little bit lost by all the different perspectives and confusing and sometimes convoluted plot. It could have done with some chapters or events cut out, but I really enjoyed reading Miryem’s sections and I did grow to be invested in all of the other main characters too. I also find it fascinating how the book uses a traditional fairytale to subvert and challenge stereotypes, as that is something I haven’t seen too often in fantasy books. I’ve also not seen a whole lot about the Jewish faith in fantasy books either, so this was a welcome and interesting addition to my kindle.
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
Spinning Silver is a new standalone work of fantasy from Naomi Novik. It has something of the fairytale about it, in the rhythmic language, and in some of the narrative structural underpinnings – but, much like 2015’s ‘Uprooted’, there’s a lot more going on. In a sense, this is a fairy-tale for grown ups, but it’s not just that. It’s a story about power and the exercise thereof, and about agency – denying it, fighting for it, holding onto it. It’s a story about women and how they define themselves alongside or against social expectations. It’s a story about faith, and how that faith can hinder or help you. It is, in short, a book filled with interesting ideas, which it explores at the same time as being an absolutely cracking story of magic, strange creatures, and normal families doing their best to get by in extraordinary circumstances.

The heart of the book is a triad of different women. Miryem, the daughter of a less than successful moneylender, is a force to be reckoned with. She has a firm eye on what needs to be done to make success out of adversity. Miryem is not received well in a village which is used to borrowing money and then not having to pay it back – her stubborn refusal to take no for an answer is backed by a cool ferocity and determination which lets her come straight off the page, sharp edges, strong will and all.

In Miryem’s efforts to make a profit and lift her family out of penury, she’s ably assisted by Wanda, who acts as her collections agent. Wanda has her own problems, though – a family on the edge of starvation, an abusive alcoholic father, and an unusual mother. Wanda’s efforts to make ends meet, and to make a life for herself not defined by the expectations of those around her are incredibly impressive and also terribly poignant. That Wanda and Miryem work side by side is one thing – but alternate points of view show us how each thinks of the other and how they see each other, a reminder that perspective is everything.

The third leg of that perspective is Irinushka. A duke’s daughter, she carries the material comforts that the other two decidedly do not. But while Miryem’s family is supportive and perhaps too kind, Irinushka’s father is cool, distant, calculating. To him she is nothing more than a bargaining chip – a perspective he shares with Wanda’s father, though the levels at which they operate are rather different. Like the other two women, Irinushka is desperate for something of her own, to escpae the straitjacket of conformity placed on her by family, politics and social convention. If her father doesn’t beat her, as Wanda’s does, still she has little in the way of support network –her only confidant being her aged childhood carer.

If there’s a thread tying these three together, its that they’re absolutely fierce. Miryem is an implacable iceberg, who is always prepared to break against a problem until she can resolve it. Wanda is quieter, perhaps more subtle, evading issues she can’t resolve, and trying to struggle out of a family history which prevents her from thinking of fighting back. Irinushka has the most material freedom, but is further locked into a cage of expectations. Each of them has their own voice, their own needs, their own differences. They share a desire to do things, to break the paradigms that lock them in place, to empower their own decision making – and a willingness to face the consequences. Seeing these three, from very different backgrounds, face their fears and the rage of others, to demand that they be allowed to be themselves, is at once heartbreaking and incredibly powerful; this is a story which carries an emotional kick like a mule, and it uses that kick often. And it hurts, but in a good way.

But anyway. These are women in a fairly tale, though not one where happy endings are guaranteed. There’s magic about, and creatures abroad which might not even loosely be described as friendly. Novik gives us a world almost recognisable in childhood memory, one where the stark white of the world is everywhere, and where the Tsar holds sway over his country, but doesn’t ask questions about what happens at its borders, seen or unseen. I’ve already mentioned the prose, but was delighted on a re-read to notice that the cadence is right for having the book read aloud; it may not be entirely child safe, but that linguistic effort gives the story some of its fairytale charm; there’s other familiar faces in here, too – elfin strangers, handsome princes, bad (and good) bargains –b ut here there’s a story under the story, a complexity which suggests that this, the book you’re reading, is the narrative that happens after the one you tell the children, or happens beside it, out of their sight.

This is a multi-layered text, one which is going to reward several readings. It has characters which have been built in such a complex, nuanced way that you may half expect them to come off the page and start talking to you. The world it inhabits will have you looking for the crisp crunch of snow underfoot, even in high summer – I found myself reading parts of the story during a recent heatwave in an effort to cool down! And the characters – I mean I’ve touched on the core trio, but they’re surrounded by an ensemble all with the same sense of inner life – from  Irinushka’s old nurse, remembering terrors long gone by, to Wanda’s supportive brothers, to her appalling, broken father, to the terrors out of the night who are both more and less terrible than they seem – they all feel alive, present, real.

Should you be reading this? Yes. It’s a true tour-de-force of fantasy, one which kept me turning pages to find out what happened next, but also challenged my expectations of the story and the characters within it. This is a book which will sit in your head for days afterwards, even as its one which you can’t put down late into the night.

So, once again, should you be reading this? Yes. It’s fantastic, in all sense of the word. Give it a try.
Was this review helpful?
This was the first time I'd read a book by Novik. Her Temeraire series and Uprooted have received lots of praise so I was pleased to have an opportunity to review this new standalone story.

Set in the snowy Eastern European forests long ago, Spinning Silver is the story of three young women. Miryem is the daughter of the village moneylender - who, sadly, lacks the instinct for his occupation. Wanda has no mother, and a father who mistreats her and her young brothers. Irina, whose mother has also died, is a member of the nobility, but just as much under her father's control as Irina: he plots to marry her off for political advantage.

Faced with starvation, Miryem takes a hand in her father's business. If he doesn't have the steel, the coldness, for the work, she does. But that coldness attracts attention, and when the King of Winter, the Staryk, demands a favour of Miryem, he sets in motion a chain of events that changes the lives of all three. Their stories then cross and interweave, each affecting the other in what are at the start, three parallel tales. I might almost say three parallel fairy tales, there are so many traditional elements here; of course the idea of spinning silver into gold, but also the witch's house in the woods, the castle of ice, the motherless child, and so on.

Yet for all the magical atmosphere Novik keeps things firmly anchored in practicality. Things like food, money, warmth matter here - as does the catastrophe that can befall a young woman when men  man scheme to use her.

Politics and position at Court also matter - the need to anchor a fractious kingdom, provide an heir and keep the nobles in their place. And to raise taxes at a time when winter is growing in power and destroying the crops the people depend on...

Novik fills the book with well observed descriptions of things that are often left out in fantasy - profit and loss, trade and goods, as Miryem attempts to rescue the family business. The difference a little extra food of fuel can make,  as Wanda shivers with her brothers in their cottage. The need to rebuild a city wall breached in battle and the money that makes that happen, how the job is financed and who the loan came from. She takes her time to show the amount of effort involved in making a dress, a mattress cover, a silver ring. The work must always come first.

And when the time comes that the protagonists - not just Miryem, but her parents, not just Wanda, but her brothers - are in danger, it's almost always these little, practical things that save them. In one place Novik takes nearly a page describing a piece of knitting, as part of showing how little positive acts fortify a house against the cold, the unnatural winter that's spreading through the land. Food is prepared and put on the table, logs found for warmth, and people survive. The wolf is kept away for another day, and sometimes that's enough.

Which isn't to say that larger things aren't afoot. There are true monsters here, and they have to be fought, but Novik blurs the lines so that it often seems to be a matter of setting the lesser evil against the greater, than of pure good. And even as the fight becomes fiercer, there are side agendas - such as Irina's father seeking to marry her off to the Tsar, and her own response. The struggle for survival and the politics of a small and unstable kingdom are never far apart. This is a complicated book, where good intentions aren't enough and can lead to real harm.

There are some particularly poignant themes here. There is the prejudice shown against Miryem and her family in their village for being Jewish, also embodied in the separate "quarter" - complete with guards at the gates - for the Jews in town: in both cases there is the ever present threat of violence, the of needing to escape, in the background even of prosperous and successful lives (let alone Miryem's scatty and impoverished parents). There is the position of an older unmarried woman, having to make a place for herself in a noble house because it's that or starve. There is the plight of the peasants, one bowl of soup or handful of logs away from death (and subject to Draconian punishment for taking an animal or a fallen tree from the forest).

It's am immersive and enchanting book - and that's even before adding in the mysterious, mercurial Staryk King, a proud and aloof character with a convoluted and difficult sense of honour that only very slowly unwinds so that we can understand what he's really doing. Think of a Mr Darcy, perhaps, - but with the power to bring winter in the height of summer.

Novak is good at worldbuilding and gives a real sense that this story is just part of a wider landscape - for example that witch's house has an awful lot going on that is never really explored (even while she makes clear that she's inverting the trope of the wicked house in the woods: this house is a welcoming place). There are, we sense, other stories here which could be told.

My only criticism would be a slight lack of distinction I felt, especially at the start, between Miryem, Irina and Wanda: while their circumstances are very different they do come across as very similar to  in voice, something underlined by having each narrate sections of the book as "I" - there are also sections narrated by other characters, but fewer of them. (You may, though, think this actually emphasises how - for all the differences in status between the three - the fact that they are women in a patriarchal society puts them all very much in the same boat and demands that they each act with every last ounce of resource, ingenuity and courage.)

But that's a minor quibble, overall I enjoyed Spinning Silver a great deal. It's one to savour, with so much detail, so much suggested, that it begs to be read slowly and carefully. Novik dismantles the traditional fairy story, twists the parts round ninety degrees, and puts it back together again, adding a deep historical resonance and a telling mesh of race, gender and class issues and creating a study of power and marginalisation that is still truly and magically a fairy story.

Strongly recommended.
Was this review helpful?
Originally posted at; https://literaryleisha.wordpress.com/2018/07/12/spinning-silver/


The beginning of the novel really sets the scene and creates intrigue, I was hooked from the beginning. I really had no idea where the story would go but I couldn’t stop reading so I could find out. The middle slowed down a bit for me, I did find some parts a little boring and I wasn’t a fan of some of the POV character’s but they were important to the story.
I liked the beginning of Uprooted but it went downhill for me from there and when this got slow in the middle I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to like the rest of the story.
The writing is beautiful, I wasn’t a huge fan of Uprooted but I did love the writing.
The last 150 were fast paced,  that’s when I become really addicted and could not put the book down!
I didn’t see the ending coming at all, it was adorable!


Characters: I had no idea going into this that there would be multiple POV’s, from the synopsis I thought Miryem was the only POV character but there’s actually quite a few, around 6(?) I think.  The thing that bothered me is that there’s nothing to indicate who’s perspective the chapter is. I have no issue with multiple POV’s but it can be hard to realise who’s chapter it is when there’s no name at the beginning of the chapter. I’d much prefer having the name of whoever’s chapter it is at the beginning.

Miryem: She was definitely my favourite character, her chapters were my favourite to read and her journey. It’s actually really refreshing to see a character act ‘cold’ and not be a pushover to people who have wronged her and her family. Nothing annoys me more than when the main character/ their family is treated badly and it’s just kind of brushed off and they’re too nice to do anything!?

Wanda: It’s not that I found her chapters boring but they weren’t as gripping as Miryem’s. I did feel sorry for Wanda, she’s had a hard life, been abused and living in poverty.

Irina: I liked Irina, her chapters were interesting, as was her part of the story. I overall like Irina as a character but there was *something* that made me like her a bit less towards the end. But no spoilers
Was this review helpful?
Novik has done it again! This is another stunning book, once I picked it up I found it difficult to put down! Weaving Rumpelstiltskin and Polish fairytales together Novik has crafted a breathtaking multi-perspective tale that keeps you guessing.

I was surprised by just how many perspectives were in this book. From reading the blurb I thought that it would have two perspectives, but by the end Novik has woven six different perspectives together to create a complex story. The new character’s perspectives are seamlessly introduced and Novik has created such diverse, and unique characters that you instantly know which character is talking with very little information. Which is such a win for me!

It’s amazing how Novik can make you feel for the antagonists in the book, they can go from these terrifying characters to something more human without you even noticing and suddenly you’re not even sure how you want the book to end. I loved exploring the world of the Staryk, the made such fascinating characters and I love that their magic was never fully explained.

This is such a beautiful, complex tale that I can’t tell you enough how much you should be reading this! Seriously! Pick it up!
Was this review helpful?
I ended up spending many sleepless nights with it because thanks to it being an ebook I could just keep reading after turning the lights off and then one more chapter turned into three and then the book ended.

Long story short: I ended up loving this book as much as Uprooted! The beginning was a bit slow and since I went in pretty blind (I didn’t even look up the fairy tale Spinning Silver is inspired by!), I wasn’t sure what the story was really about until I was like 100 pages in. But once the story started properly it just got better and better!

Spinning Silver has multiple point of view characters, I believe I counted six in total at the end. In the beginning the only POVs are Miryem and Wanda, the girl Miryem hires to work at her home to pay off her father’s debt. Third really important POV character is Irina, who is a duke’s daughter who ends up being married off to a tsar who turns out to be more than a little questionable person. The three other point of views are more like side characters just offering a different angle to situations, but I did enjoy them as well. Funny story: I didn’t realize until I was like halfway through the book that the POV changes were indicated by pictures of items related to the characters (coins for Miryem for example). How slow can a person be?

Miryem, Wanda and Irina were also my favorite characters because they were really strong people in their own ways who had to make the best of bad situations. Especially the way Miryem and Irina grew into their roles (which ended up being surprisingly similar) and refused to be treated like trash was great to read. Especially Miryem and the Staryk king’s interactions were great whenever she managed to outsmart him. Wanda’s side of the story was a little different because she’s from a very poor home with an abusive drunk father, but the small event of Miryem hiring her ends up basically saving her and her brothers and I was just so happy for how their story ended up going. My one complaint about the book is that while Miryem and Wanda’s storylines got nice proper endings, Irina’s felt like it needed some more closure.

And then there’s the Staryk. I can’t stop picturing the Staryk king as the Night King from Game of Thrones but I’m pretty sure he’s supposed to be less ugly. Their world sounded really cool and I wanted to learn more about it than could be explained in one book. They’re basically elf-like people made of ice and it’s really hard to figure out whether they’re meant to be the villains of the book or not, because they need winter to survive but permanent winter is also really bad for humans who need other seasons to produce food.

One thing that was interesting about this book was that the characters’ religions weren’t made up as they often are in fantasy books. Miryem’s family is Jewish, and the way they are treated by other people in the book is similar to how Jewish people have been treated in history (which is badly). Since I wasn’t very familiar with the history of Jewish people aside from WW2 things which everyone know from history classes, I ended up spending some time reading Wikipedia entries about things like antisemitism just to understand better why things are how they are in the book.

I would say that if you loved Uprooted you’re going to love Spinning Silver as well! Spinning Silver’s world felt a bit darker to me but it’s still just as magical. ❤
Was this review helpful?
Having thoroughly enjoyed Uprooted, I had high expectations for Spinning Silver and it definitely did not disappoint. 

Loosely based on the traditional fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin, Spinning Silver starts with the story of Miryem, the daughter of an ineffectual money-lender. Miryem takes it upon herself to collect what it owed so that her family can escape poverty. As Jews, her family are already outsiders in their prejudiced village and Miryem must harden her heart to the resentful debtors. She finds success where her father failed, obtaining stacks of silver coins and turning them into gold. In doing so, she attracts the unwanted attentions of the intimidating King of the Staryk; icy, gold-hungry beings who live in a winter domain. Meanwhile, winter is choking Miryem’s world and refuses to turn into spring. 

Miryem’s story intertwines with those of Wanda, motherless and mistreated by her father, and Irina, daughter of a duke, forced to marry a terrible Tsar. The story is told through first person narration, switching mostly between Miryem, Wanda, and Irina, but later adding in a couple of other characters. It was sometimes a little confusing when the narration changed, especially when the other characters narrated for the first time, but it was an effective way to tell the story and get into the minds of the characters. 

I liked that the three main characters are all strong young women, who don’t shy away from trying circumstances. However, at times their traits seemed a little too similar; they all had to harden themselves to get through their trials, and none of them displayed much explicit warmth in their narration for much of the story. This meant I didn’t always feel as involved with their lives and fates as I would have liked, but there was some very effective subtle softening of both their inner and outer toughness.

The world of the story was wonderfully built and felt very real with magic of the Staryk overlapping the mundane winter-cloaked land. The Staryk and their kingdom are enchanting and menacing. I thought the importance of bonds, debts and the right words when making an agreement, were dealt with very cleverly. The story is delightfully woven together, slowly revealing layers to seemingly shallow characters.
There is plenty of darkness and twists in this wonderful fairy tale and I didn’t want it to end.
Was this review helpful?
I had been looking forward to Spinning Silver ever since I finished Uprooted earlier this year. I had really been taken by Novik’s writing style, and the way she took ideas from traditional Russian folk tales and developed them into something so much bigger and detailed, with such wonderfully developed characters and flowing plots.

Spinning Silver didn’t let me down, I enjoyed it a lot – but, perhaps, not quite as much as Uprooted, and I think this is because of the split narratives. Where Uprooted had a single narrator, Spinning Silver follows the stories of Miryem, the Jewish moneylender’s daughter, Wanda, the farm girl who is abused by her father, and Irina, the plain girl whose father wants her to marry the Tsar. The story begins and ends with Miryem, and Wanda and Irina’s narratives appear as they are introduced to the story through Miryem’s actions. Then, later in the book, additional narratives are added – the Tsar, Wanda’s baby brother, and Irina’s maid all gain their own voices to move the story along. The reason for the different narratives is self-evident – the story is much less linear than that of Uprooted, with different strands in different areas weaving together to form the overall story. However, the constant switching of perspective was a little jarring for me, and it wasn’t always immediately clear who the new narrator was.

Inspired by Rumplestiltskin, Miryem finds herself in danger from the king of the Staryk, a race of ice fairies who raid the towns and villages every winter searching for gold. After taking over her father’s business, Miryem makes it more successful than it has ever been, and her grandfather jokes that she is able to turn silver into gold. The Staryk king overhears this, and appears with a bag of silver to be changed to gold, and Miryem has to use all her cunning to do so by getting her cousin’s fiancé to melt the silver and shape it into jewellery, which they can sell for a profit in gold. This Staryk silver is mesmerising, and the jewellery is bought by the Duke, and passed to his daughter Irina, in the hopes she can snare the Tsar whilst wearing it.

In much the same way I enjoyed the way Agnieszka was allowed to be dirty and unkempt in Uprooted, I took great pleasure in Miryem and Irina’s cold logic and problem-solving skills. Whilst they had affection for their families, broadly they were calculating and clever, weighing their options and working out solutions based on risk and reward. This trope of the clever girl triumphing over all is a common subset of fairy tale, but in a more fleshed-out novel it meant that they became delightfully cerebral characters, with a morality defined by their own understanding of the world and measured against the way the world had treated them and theirs. Wanda was an exception, for all she began as fairly self-interested, her narrative was earnest and sweet, and showed growing care and compassion for those around her, whilst she found the inner strength to develop.

Spinning Silver was inspired by Rumplestiltskin, with the weaving of silver into gold and bargains made because of it. There is also some discussion about the importance of names, although this is a comparatively small piece. The story almost reads like three fairy tales woven together, each with its leading lady, and I would be interested to know if any other stories did influence Irina and Wanda’s storylines. Miryem’s narrative first appeared as a short story in a collection of fairy tale retellings called The Starlit Wood, published by Saga Press in the USA in October 2016. I wonder if, perhaps, that’s why Miryem’s story feels the most complete of the three. Wanda’s ending is very much intertwined with Miryem’s, so I did not feel there was more to be said there, but I would have liked a further small epilogue for Irina’s story, just to give the last bit of resolution on her marriage and ending. The threads were in place to suggest the way it was going to go, but I would have liked to have seen them tied off nicely.

All in all, however, these were minor niggles and I did really enjoy this book. I am beginning to think I need to check out the Temeraire series, but there is something special about reading a particularly good stand-alone book, and knowing the resolution is all there within the pages in front of you. Especially when the book is as well-crafted as this.

Briefly:

Another expertly-told fairy tale, with robust characters and settings handled with the lightest touch but never falling short of imagination.
I enjoyed seeing the main female characters as something other than unfailingly soft, kind-hearted or gentle. They were intelligent, sharp and coldly logical and it was extremely refreshing.
I found the changes of perspective a little jarring at times, and would have liked more resolution on one or two plot points, but these are comparatively minor niggles.
I think this series would be perfect to give to teen girls, as each is a standalone, but each shows women triumphing and allows them to be more than beautiful and gentle and kind. It keeps the tropes of the fairy tales, and in some cases the savagery, but considers the type of woman who would be able to triumph within the boundaries of the story.
Something I found particularly interesting was the portrayal of antisemitism in the book. I thought it was very well-handled, but it was a strangely grounding experience to read about real-world religions and prejudices in a fantasy book. It was a very effective contrast, and I enjoyed all the little details, even as the cruel treatment made me sad.
Rating: 4/5 – I loved this, but I felt it wasn’t quite as perfect as Uprooted, because there were just a few more things I wanted resolved. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it, though, and my issues were extremely minor in the long run. I’d happily read this over and over.
Was this review helpful?
Naomi Novik's Uprooted was one of the most impressive (and lauded) fantasy books of 2015, giving readers an adaptation of Polish folktale Agnieszka Piece of Sky. Spinning Silver is a follow-up adaptation of multiple Slavic mythologies and a Grimm Brothers fairytale, and it tackles the difficult story/mythos of the Jewish moneylender, as well. Novik has spun a complicated tale with these narrative threads an I'm sure the fact that it is a less facile read than Uprooted is going to leave some readers disappointed. For me, however, this was a brave and wonderful story.

The premise of the story is that Miryem, daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, is forced to take over her father's business due to her father's mild-mannered ways and his tepid nature. Miryem's Jewish family lives in the mythical Lithvas, an environment of usually reserved anti-semitism (there were moments in this story in which I just gasped, let me tell you), enduring increasingly hard winters. A fairy road of sorts, attributed to the icy Staryks, frequently appears nearby their home. The Staryks are greatly feared, as they are very strong, possessive of their lands and animals, and have been known to kill mortals trespassing on their lands. A second and third principal character in the story are Wanda, a local girl pressed into service in order to pay off her father's debts with Miryem's family, and Irina, daughter of a minor Duke, living in the nearby town of Vysnia. (Vysnia is where Miryem's grandfather, a banker who is still is still sadly termed a Jewish moneylender by the locals, lives.) These three women's lives will intersect as the story reaches its climax.

Novik opens this book with a pragmatic retelling of the story of the Brothers Grimm's Rumplestiltskin/Rumpelstilzchen from the viewpoint of Miryem. From her perspective, it's just the usual tale of people trying to get out of paying their debts. Miryem is embittered about her father's ineffectual business acumen and she takes over the business when she is tired of going cold and hungry and sees her mother's health suffering because of her father's inability to recover the money he has loaned. She is bold and brave and clever, and in a way turns silver into gold by careful investment, keeping careful records, accepting trade for loan repayment. Once she is on a more solid financial footing, she becomes entrepreneurial, paying for good workmanship and coming up with good ideas for selling goods. These abilities don't go unnoticed. Villagers grow resentful that they are no longer dealing with a patsy moneylender, and the King of the Staryks grows intrigued by her business acumen after noting the family's change in fortune. Other beneficiaries of Miryem's good business sense include Wanda and her brothers, who enjoy good meals and a modest income they fail to report to their cruel and abusive drunkard of a father. Working for Miryem is literally a lifesaver for Wanda as working off her father's debt means she cant be sold off as a bride for a few goats and some bottles of liquor to some husband who will just abuse and batter her, working and birthing her to death like her own mother. She wants her own work and to delay marrying. Miryem and her family provide an environment in which she can see her own potential. Miryem generously trains her to keep the books and her mother dotes on Wanda and her brothers kindly, in thanks for the great help they provide in their work.

Irina's story begins when the King of the Staryk leaves a small leather pouch with silver for Miryem with an implicit task of turning silver to gold. She does this by traveling to Vysnia and having Isaac, a silversmith, make a ring of the fairy silver. They then sell it to the Duke, Irina's father, netting a profit. Irina, from the very beginning, is mesmerized by the silver. The King of the Staryk leaves increasingly large sums of silver for Miryem to change into gold as Isaac makes an expensive fairy silver necklace and a crown for Miryem, selling those to the Duke in turn. (The Duke wants to lure the beautiful but cruel young tsar, Mirnatius into wedding his daughter.) Eventually, Irina wears all three and finds they create a powerful glamour and an ability to cross into the land of the Staryk via a classic fairy roads mechanism of entering a mirror or mirror-like reflection. (We eventually will find out why this works for Irina.) Upon completion of these three transformations of fairy silver into profitable gold, the King of the Staryk takes Miryem as his fairy bride and I do mean he takes her, stealing her away in the world of the Staryk. And this is where the story gets complicated.

As soon as Irina marries the cruel young tsar we see that he is possessed by a ravenous and fiery demon. Miryem, meanwhile, is dealing with an ice fairy "husband" who kidnapped her, hasn't even properly married her, and is clearly repelled by her human and mortal nature. He refuses to give her either his name or her freedom. He sets her many seemingly impossible tasks and is horrified and puzzled that she can always complete them. In the cool and white Staryk world, just her touch is enough to turn Staryk silver into gold. The dynamic between these two Slavic kings is that of fire and ice, and while eventually the reader will be rewarded with the name of Mirnatius' demon [ the Slavic black god, Chernobog (hide spoiler)], Miryem's Staryk King's name will remain a mystery to the reader unless you are an aficionado of Russian mythology. (I'll give you the name of this mythological figure below in a spoilered PS) Given that we have fire and ice, you can already predict confrontation between these two powerful men.

One of my only reservations about this novel is the aforementioned complicated narrative may seem too convoluted to some readers. However, this book gives us three marvelous, resilient female characters who are perhaps ultimately more powerful than the men in the story. I loved the exposition on the Jewish moneylender mythos and Miryem's cleverness, loyalty, and success. Wanda's resilience and strength and Irina's insight and bravery, complete the tale of three brave women succeeding against steep odds considering their world's unpleasant gender constraints on women's roles. This is a wonderful Young Adult fantasy.

P.S. [Readers curious about the name of the King of the Staryk can look into the story of the Slavic Frost King, Morozko, who is also a central figure in Katherine Arden's Winternight trilogy. (hide spoiler)]
Was this review helpful?
Firstly, I’d like to thank Pan Macmillan for sending me a copy of Spinning Silver when I couldn’t get my E-ARC to work correctly. It is very much appreciated!

I spent much of today reading Spinning Silver, having planned to read a hundred or so pages a day, and found myself completely unwilling to put the book down. I’d deliberately stayed away from reading other reviews and had only heard that it was written from multiple points of view, the number of which I found a little daunting, expecting them to be introduced one after the other at the very beginning. This was not the case and in-fact one of the things about the novel that I found the most effective. Some points of view aren’t introduced until a good way into the story, and are then belonging to characters that the reader already knows, meaning they don’t detract from the main narrative or draw it off path, but add to it in ways that bring you closer to many of the characters involved.

I can’t say that there was a point of view that I didn’t enjoy reading, which I find is rarely the case with novels that alternate from one character to the next. Perhaps this is not only owing to what I’ve addressed above, but that the sections belonging to each character are just long enough to add to their stories and the story as a whole without leaving the reader feeling frustrated that they are moved on to someone else too quickly. However, ultimately, the main reason the point of view shifts don’t become frustrating is because of the characters themselves.

There is something charming about each of the main characters in Spinning Silver that makes it easy to want them to get rewarded for the work they do and the suffering they endure. This may be because their focus is so often not on themselves and what they can get out of life, but on what their actions mean for others and how they can improve things for them. Though there are some instances of callousness, it is not out of spite or with evil intentions that these characters act, but out of a desire to change the broader picture – and if, along the way, they learn that their beliefs do not reflect reality, they are quick to consult their conscience and attempt to make amends. In particular, that the women of Spinning Silver are all presented as clever and quick-witted, no matter their ‘place’ in society, as well as warm-hearted (no matter what other characters might insist) is wonderful to see, especially when women in fiction are so often presented as one, but lacking in the other.

One of the many things that I love about Spinning Silver is how Wanda refers to learning how to use numbers as ‘magic’ and how she finds a growing joy in discovering how they work and what she can use them for. It was lovely to see it presented as something that a character has a positive experience learning and putting to practical use. Against a backdrop of myth and magic, to see mathematics painted as something beautiful honestly made me wish I’d had a better experience of it.

The overarching theme of familial love is what draws the different narratives together and drives much of the characters in the novel. The descriptions of meals and what the different affectionate gestures in this vein made by Miryem’s family mean to others in the story are some of the most captivating and are often what give characters the strength to believe in their own worth and learn what it means to have found family. From the beginning to the very end of the novel, it’s these connections that drive them onward, whether the ties of blood or the love of others who consider them their own, making Spinning Silver an engaging and endearing tale. A truly magical story.
Was this review helpful?
Miryen comes from a family of moneylenders.  However her father is not a very good moneylender.  He lends money but fails to collect payments.  With the family in poverty Miryen decides she can do better and does.  Impressed, her grandfather lends her a pouch of silver which she quickly returns into a pouch of gold.  It seems as though that reputation might bring her trouble.  

Enter the Staryk king who wants his silver turned into gold.  The Staryk prey on Miryen's world apparent on whims at times.  There is a very real threat to Miryen and her family if she fails to do the King's bidding.  In the course of this story there is a gradually increasing cast of characters narrating from their perspective.  I did find this a little confusing to start with and then realised that a small graphic at the head of a section indicated who was narrating for a while.

This has a feel of an Eastern European "fairy" story and not the nice child friendly sort!  There is darkness here both in the human realm and in that of the Staryk.  These realms coincide particularly when the Staryk want something.  They are ruthless in getting want they want and are little interested in the humans views.

In part a book about cold and the story felt cold to me. The Staryk world is a cold one and depends on that.  The ideas used in this were good as was the overall story idea.  However I never became really immersed in it - fantasy should allow that. I guess I never really warmed to the cold.  Equally the characters - often with interesting stories - rarely came alive to me.  Possibly Wanda - who had to work for Miryen to pay off her father's debt - was as interesting as anyone else.  There was nothing actually bad about this, it simply didn't get to me in a positive way.
Was this review helpful?
Once upon a time did I read a book called UPROOTED and I found it to be a fabulous novel. So, I was thrilled to get the chance to read SPINNING SILVER a new novel by Naomi Novik. Now this novel is a stand-alone fantasy novel that in some ways feels like a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin.

FULL REVIEW TO COME OVER AT FRESH FICTION!
Was this review helpful?
Sadly I was unable to finish this title, I found the plot threads convoluted and slightly confusing and when I still wasn't getting into it almost 130 pages in, I decided that it was time to give up which was a shame as I would have loved to read a Rumplestiltskin retelling, but this wasn't the one for me.
Was this review helpful?
THIS IS AMAZING, I just had to start off my review with that. I did get sent this e-book by NetGalley to review, but I am still 100% for sure going to buy a physical copy when this book is actually released, and then I am going to reread it. Spinning Silver is definitely one of my new favourite novels, and dare I even say that it is better than Uprooted?

Naomi Novik has such an incredible writing style – in both Spinning Silver and Uprooted – that can only be described as Grimm-fairytaleesque. Her novels have that dark, murky, twisted sort of magic with a certain quality that is hard to describe, and Novik is able to interweave this magic seamlessly into her writing style.

Furthermore, there is an incredible blending of reality and fantasy – the incorporation of the jewish faith alongside the fairytales makes it seem almost as if this sort of world has existed before; as if it were history instead of fantasy.

The only thing that I could maybe critique about this novel is that it is a little slow to start – things do not really ‘kick off’ until the end of chapter 6 – but that slow build up is, in my opinion, necessary to make you understand and sympathize with with all of the different characters. Given that the characters are so complex, it just takes that long for you, as a reader, to properly build a relationship with them and to care what happens with them. 

Which brings me to my next point – I am usually not a fan of when there are multiple points of view, but for some reason it worked so well with this particular storytelling. The way you got to see how the other characters around the main characters acted actually added to the overall richness of the plot. I usually find that this novel from the story and brings the reader out of the story, but this time, it just gave so many different scenes and actions more context.

But by far my favorite aspect of this novel is the three main women. These three ladies are so boss that I want to chant feminism – surrounded by incredibly controlling and powerful men, they take charge and make things work for them instead. It is so inspring to read.

Another aspect of the plot that I felt really added to the authenticity was the sections where Miryem was attempting to analyze the society; for example, in regards to the market, to see where she herself could most benefit, and how she could benefit from helping others. Frankly, her very analytical way of understanding her society made her a that much more believable a person. Miryem is such an interesting and compelling lead – she is incredibly solid, and just has this an aura of fortitude. Nothing can shake her. 

And this was just one of those stories, the more I kept reading it, the better and better it became – the characters became more complex as you learned more about them through the progression of the plot. Yes, they made mistakes –  they are flawed just like people – but they also learned from their mistakes and strived to better themselves.

Honestly, there were so many times that I got goosebumps whilst reading this because it was just that good. Also, frankly, that ending is definitely one of my all-time favorite endings of a book. Like, hands down, goosebumps and grinning and happiness ARGH. 

Overall, I cannot recommend this book enough. It was fantastic, inspiring, heartwarming and grim all at the same time – and has definitely landed a spot on my favorites list.
Was this review helpful?
Quality Rating Four Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Four Stars

Do you need a book to help your Katherine Arden cravings while you're waiting for the Winter of the Witch? (As much as I hate to compare books to directly, in this case it's just too perfect.) Do you want to stay inside when it's way too hot outside and read about the winter weather that's just as dramatic as this heat wave? Well, I've got the book for you, and you'll end up not being able to put it down even though the heat kind of breaks the imersion, but hey.

There's something about fairytale-style prose that is just enchanting. Haha, yeah, maybe not the more original choice of words, but that classical modesty about fantastical objects and happenings just gets me. Somehow, the lack of surprise at magic makes it seem all the more wonderous; it's almost commonplace. It's especially striking in a book like this, where we seem a historical setting just non-specific enough to feel timeless. It echoes through history, it's everywhere. However, it might be said that the objectivity this kind of narration brings can sometimes create anticlimaxes; the 'final stand' felt a bit... well, flat. Because the prose is almost nonchalant about it. It didn't ruin the book, but the climax felt like it was designed for a little more drama than the writing style allowed.

I assume there are three loose retellings running through this novel, with three protagonists spearheading each. I make a guess there because they're so well weaved together, and their paths cross so subtly that I can't tell. It feels like each story is being given its due in running its course - bringing it to a new audience, let's say - but they're elevated into something more by being combined with each other. Sometimes these kinds of multiple retellings can feel like a short story collection that's had its chapters mixed up, but Spinning Silver takes the themes and characters from each and places them neatly into a little world, letting them run their destinies into one another - presumably smiling at the chaos that ensues.

I'd like to think that a great deal of the books I come into contact with will have good female characters these days - or at least the ones I choose to read - but Spinning Silver caught me off guard. Because they weren't just good, they were proper characters. Let me clarify: to be good, they have to have a purpose, not be there as a decorative or to make a snappy comment every few pages; think of it like a literary Bechdel test. But to have proper characters, they have to have motivations, relationships, complicated personalities and developed backstories - which is hard for any character regardless of gender, it just happens to be seen more in male than female characters. Spinning Silver is led by three strong, varied women that all make (quite disasterous) mistakes, but won't take shit by the end. And what I especially loved was that we got to see them grow into those roles. Maybe one was born a bit of a rebel, one kindhearted, one inquisitive, but they learn to be more than their original persona, which I appreciate. They also learn through different experiences, and learn to be different things: I don't want to break it down to 'the cunning one', 'the brave one' and 'the bold one' because that would be simplifying their characters, but the point is that they aren't all the same by the end. To juggle that along with the other characters and storylines and have it pay off and be involved with the story is damn hard, but Novik does it and she does it well.

I really enjoyed Spinning Silver - it was a lot more classical than I expected it to be, but I say that with pleasant surprise. It's makes me happy that there are fantasy books that are coming out that keep the old European fairytale style alive. As mentioned, if you liked The Bear and the Nightingale, this'll be right up your street. I'm excited to go back to Uprooted by Novik (that's I've had for like three years, oh dear), and I look forward to more in this vein in the future.
Was this review helpful?
It is a new take on the classic fairytale Rumpelstiltskin. An extensive story made complex and interlacing weaved to be enjoyed by many generations to come. 
This has been my best read so far this year. And I mean it's on the top of my list. Two thirds of the book is almost a very descriptive narrative, and I'm not used to reading a book like it, but it worked perfectly fine. There are also several PoV's and each one made me crave to read the next, I love how she'd done it. She kept every chapter interesting and important. No character was dull. The worlds were made (both by the author and the characters) so beautifully you'd want to see both worlds.
I love how it showed finding strength in so many different ways and how finding oneself along the way mattered in character building both in the story and how it applies in real life. I know we encounter this in so many stories, but the way she presented it, the way she told it will make the young ones listen. 
How empowering it is to see strong female characters help and support each other, how someone who is deemed by the community small, unwanted and unnecessary be made great with the right company. How someone who doesnt know of love, if shown what love and compassion is be strong and fight to never loose it once more.
Society may have not fully changed on how  it dictates a persons worth with looks and riches and difference in beliefs over character and attitude but hopefully books like this teaches the young ones the difference.  No matter how beautiful and rich you are, if your attitude sucks then you'll be just as rotten.

So no matter if there were very few conversation and mostly narrative in the 2/3 of the story like I've mention in the beginning I still give it a 5/5.. and I encourage you to read it. It wont disappoint.
So I was given this digital ARC by Pan Macmillan through Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion.. And even though I read this eARC already, I'm pretty sure I'll search for the physical book and reread it over and over..
Was this review helpful?
I had imagined Spinning Silver to be a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, but it was way more than that. For starters, the ‘retelling’ is only a subset of this lush and expansive story that is told through 6 perspectives, with 3 of them being the main – Miryem, Irina and Wanda – and the other 3 being secondary – Wanda’s youngest brother, Irina’s nanny and Irina’s husband, the tsar. (I would have loved a POV of the Staryk King, too, but I think most of the driving force in his part of the story is his mysteriousness) The tale derives from more than Rumpelstiltskin; there are hints of Hades-Persephone, Baba Yaga, and other folklore, plus some tropes common to fantasies that are stripped of their problematic origins and given new context in this story. Shortly, the plot goes like this – Miryem, who becomes a successful moneylender, boasted of as being able to turn silver into gold catches the notice of the Staryk king (who is like winter personified) and is challenged three tasks to become his Queen. But during her machinations, her story intersects with that of Irina, a duke’s daughter with Staryk ancestry, and who starts as a pawn but ultimately is the Queen on the board. Wanda is Miryem’s servant and is mostly carried along by the story but she also shows initiative at times.

What I loved best about this book is while there are 3 storylines playing out, it keeps them looped with each other at regular intervals, but also not so much as to have everything happen coincidentally. There are instances where you can only explain things away by shrugging and saying, “it’s magic”, but for the most part the plot is a slowly weaving tapestry that grows into a beautiful story that encompasses a varied cast of characters. There is Miryem, and the way her childhood makes her seem cold-hearted, but you can see her tenderness shine through when it came to Wanda and her family. Wanda and her siblings, poor and abused, but always wary of never taking more than they are due and still optimistic. Irina, who turns every unfortunate situation in her favor, sometimes by luck and her bloodline, but mostly by her cunning and political intelligence. Then come the ‘husbands’ – the Staryk king is cold and dismissive of Miryem, but also sees the value in her magic and eventually humbled by it, while the tsar who is burdened by a demon and has only learned to despise people around him finding someone to love him – both of them were terrible characters in the beginning but somehow Novik won me over and let me believe that they deserved the ending that they get.

As for diversity, the novel always goes to make sure to present Miryem’s Jewish heritage – even under capture, she is particular about keeping Sabbath and bargains her way into doing it, there is a Jewish quarter and mention of them having a secret tunnel built to escape Crusades, the pervasive antisemitism that they face. There are mentions of queer characters (who is forced to marry unfortunately), or races other than white (the tsar is of Tatar heritage). Also, I’m pretty sure the tsar was aroace-coded, even if it is never explicitly mentioned that he is. Other than that, I had thought there might be something between Miryem and Wanda but that may have been wishful thinking and me seeing tropes.

Miryem, our protagonist (I think she is the main character) ,celebrates her culture in the book, even if sometimes she felt alienated by her family for her choices (I do love her grandfather for supporting and encouraging her, though). And while she is the typical ‘girl who steps into a man’s shoes’ trope, she doesn’t denounce her femininity for it. The women of the book, while lacking in power as much as the men, still carry forth the story on sheer pluck, cunning and smarts. Wanda risking her father’s wrath for her brothers, for her own autonomy, and later on finding family in Miryem’s was such a good plot development. Irina, for her part, humanizes even a demon-possessed tsar, and makes hard choices and takes blood on her own hands for the protection of a kingdom and a crown she never even yearned for. Another wonderful thing is that the reason the heroines of the book do anything is for love, but it is not romantic love – sure, there are hints of romance, but they are almost an afterthought – and instead it was for love of family, or their people.

Novik’s writing skills were already evident in Uprooted, and this one is even better. I was awed by how immersed I was in the story – even though it is over 450 pages, there was never a time when I was like ‘this is taking too long’. The plot unfolded in its own way and while the logic of the magic wasn’t always clear, it still kept you going till the ending. For that part, I should mention that I still didn’t properly get the whole silver-gold winter-summer thing, but I was still convinced enough to be satisfied by how it was wrapped up. The atmosphere was partly foreboding, but also had hints of humor or tenderness – there was a scene that calls upon the ‘there is only one bed’ trope but turns it sideways and then still delivers a punch on the next page, and that to me was a great example of how the author has subtly blended myriad emotions into a single scene.

Overall, this book was a treat for those who love to see their favorite fairytales, but without the problematic lenses under which they were written, and who yearn for some fresh takes on folklore.
Was this review helpful?