• Nina Clare

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (2018)

Updated: Jul 10

Oh wow! this was a gripping story that kept me hooked from the first line. I loved the settings of a fairy kingdom of endless winter, and a parallel human one reminiscent of pre-revolutionary Russia, I loved the lyrical language and the layering of themes, but most of all I loved the characters of the three female protagonists, all struggling to survive and keep their loved ones safe

Iryna is the motherless daughter of a duke. She is privileged by birth, but is neither loved nor valued by anyone except her ageing nurse, and is but a pawn in the marriage market for her father’s self-advancement, and her father is a very ambitious man…

Miryem is the daughter of a Jewish moneylender, forced to witness her mother’s health fail, largely due to poverty, while her father is too soft-hearted to reclaim his debts and support his family. Miriyem can either watch her mother die or take matters into her own hands and do things that girls don’t usually dare to do…

Wanda is a motherless village girl eking out a bleak existence with her brothers and their brutal father. When Miryem, the money-lender’s daughter, strikes a bargain for Wanda to work off her father’s debt and secretly keep some money for herself, there is some hope of respite for Wanda, but only until her father wants to sell her to a man for a better deal…

Three young women, with little or no control over their own lives, who have only their wits and courage to gain respect, autonomy and happiness. I cared about all three characters, and was drawn into their interweaving stories as they worked to overcome not only the control of men over them, but a dreadful danger to the whole of their community at large — a threat that seems beyond mortal power to fight, for it is embodied in a demon of fire and a fae king of ice, both of whom have no regard for human life.

In the spirit of Rumpelstiltskin there are themes of bargaining, of magical transformations into gold, of the importance of names, royalty, battles of wits, and the bartering for the life of a child. The ending was satisfying, if a little surprising—I didn’t expect one of the heroines to make the romantic choice that she did, but I’m not going to give it away!

I would rate this as mature YA. It’s a clean read without sex or bad language, but there is fantasy horror and violence, though (happily for squeamish me) less horror than in Novik’s last fairy tale Uprooted. You know you’ve read a good book when you find yourself wondering what happened to the characters when the last chapter ends…and I wish I could follow these brave young women and see how their lives progressed beyond this story.

#folktale #rumpelstiltskin #fairytale #spinningsilver #NaomiNovik #Russianfairytales