Hello Humans! I am delighted to be reviewing one of my most anticipated reads for 2018 Spinning Silver. Naomi Novik’s novel Uprooted is one of my all-time favourite reads, I could re-read it forever and not get bored. I was delighted that there was to be another fairytale style book from this author and I was utterly thrilled to get to read it in advance of publication. What follows are, I hope, coherent thoughts, though I may start blithering in excitement at times, I can only apologise.
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.
Content warning: Domestic abuse (violent, not sexual), antisemitism.
This book is different from Uprooted in many ways, they both share a basis in a fairytale setting, but Spinning Silver is much more of a retelling, where Uprooted felt like an original Fairytale (at least to me). While this is very much inspired by Rumplestiltskin as opposed to being a strict retelling, there are some incredibly clever choices as to how to incorporate aspects of the original tale in a way that makes sense for this story. I think the most obvious example of this is the idea of turning things into Gold, instead of being a magical power (at least to begin with) this is the idea that Miryem, one of the protagonists, is an excellent investor, she turns silver into gold through making a profit. The way this is told within the story not only ties in with the original Rumplestiltskin story but also gives the female character in that story more power, Miryem proves herself to be a strong woman, this isn’t just a magic that she happens to have, nor is it a lie told by her father to marry her off as in the original story. It is the little details like this that are truly enchanting and make this my favourite kind of retelling.
This book uses multiple POV to tell the story. At the start, I assumed this book would be dual POV as you only get the perspective of Miryem and Wanda, the character you are following being designated by a small image at the start of that section. However, as this story progresses more and more perspectives are brought in to round out the story and to follow the different strands of plot that begin to unravel. This could have been such a mess and could have felt a very unbalanced story but in actual fact, it works really well. There are some characters whose perspective just isn’t important or relevant until later in the book and to have them there from the very beginning would have been pointless. I thought the voices of each character were distinct and that their motivations, their strengths and weaknesses were clear without being mind-numbingly obvious. The one character whose voice annoyed me somewhat was Wanda’s younger brother, but I think that is a matter of personal preference, I don’t particularly enjoy reading children’s perspectives where they just seem to ask a million questions, though I’m sure that’s quite realistic (I don’t spend a lot of time with children).
The plot of this story is quite complex, though not unnecessarily so, I thought it was a good example of setting up multiple potential threats and then subverting the reader’s expectations. I do think that the set up is a little slow, though that could have been my interpretation due to reading this book in smaller sections rather than in one go as I normally would. Similarly to Uprooted, the last one hundred pages or so are where this story really comes alive and everything starts to make sense. This makes for a hugely satisfying conclusion to a book, as you finally work out what all those clues left along the way were adding up to, but it does mean there are moments before the end where you feel a little stuck. I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a few people found the beginning to much to get through, but I urge you to keep going until the end, in my opinion, it is worth it.
I thought it was very interesting that Novik chose to write a book with characters that practice the Jewish faith. I had never been aware of the antisemitism in the Rumplestiltskin fairytale before (privilege check) but this book brought that out into the open. I cannot speak to whether this is a good representation of this religion but the author does have Lithuanian Jewish ancestry so it is at least in part own voices. If you know of any own voices reviews of this book do please link them below I would be interested to read them. If I find any I will link them here.
I am so glad I read this book. Though it wasn’t as easy a read as Uprooted it did put a smile on my face. I think this is a very clever retelling that draws together a lot of different ideas to a wonderful conclusion. I would urge anyone who is on the fence about reading this to grab themselves a copy upon release and get to reading!
My rating: 4/5 stars (more like 4.75 honestly).
I received a digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
What say you? Are you excited for Spinning Silver? Let me know in the comments below!