Mar 04

Book Review: Spinning Silver

Spinning Silver

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

The skilled author of the Temeraire series has turned the story of Rumpelstiltskin into an extremely satisfying fantasy novel in Spinning Silver. It takes a setting like medieval Russia, and the premise of a father caught bragging that his daughter can spin into gold, and expands it into an amazing story.

Here’s what I loved about this story: First of all, the main heroine is Miryem, who is as Jewish as she sounds. So many books set in medieval or semi-medieval locales ignore the existence of Jewish people, as if they didn’t come into existence until 1939. Miryem is very much a product of her time and place. She understands the limitations placed upon her by her birth, that even though she’s the granddaughter of a rich and respected man, all of it could be swept away in an instant. She is of the townsfolk but yet not of the townsfolk because she’s not a gentile. She’s hard when she needs to be, and while she doesn’t much like herself for it, she doesn’t apologize and she doesn’t flinch. She spins silver into gold through her understanding of lending rates and market forces, which is a pretty awesome superpower. Only, her “reward” for doing this is to become the queen of the Tsarek King, which Miryem doesn’t much want.

One of the things Miryem does is take the neighbor’s daughter, Wanda, as a bondservant when Wanda’s father can’t repay his debt. Miryem thinks she’s being cruel, but it turns out to be a huge gift to Wanda. Miryem’s parents are exceptionally kindhearted, which is both their downfall and their saving grace. The story about Wanda and her brothers, and how they come to live with Miryem’s family is heartwarming and wonderful and there’s a scene I had to listen to more than once because it made me cry (in a good way.)

Wanda and her brothers are also a product of their time. Their father is as cruel and lazy as they are hard working and kind. They look out for one another and pretty much act the way heroes and heroines in the fairy tales usually are supposed to act; by selflessly working without complaint. This alone isn’t enough to get them to a better life, but fortunately they have some magical help.

Irina is a boyar’s daughter, whose father has decided to use the magic Tsarek (Starik? Starek? No idea how that’s spelled) silver to make his daughter so alluring that she captures the heart of the Tsar. It works, but not in the way they expect. But Irina, though her beauty had never been enough for her to aspire to grandeur, is no fool. She’s cool and collected and brave and, like Miryem, is also not afraid to make hard decisions without flinching.

So it’s the story of strong and brave young women who leverage their modest resources to save their kingdom and all the people in it, defeat the bad guys, and even win for themselves handsome husbands who love them. Highly recommend.

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