Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

‘Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s too kind-hearted to collect his debts. They face poverty, until Miryem hardens her own heart and takes up his work in their village.

Her success creates rumours she can turn silver into gold, which attract the fairy king of winter himself. He sets her an impossible challenge – and if she fails, she’ll die. Yet if she triumphs, it may mean a fate worse than death. And in her desperate efforts to succeed, Miryem unwittingly spins a web which draws in the unhappy daughter of a lord.

Irina’s father schemes to wed her to the tsar – he will pay any price to achieve this goal. However, the dashing tsar is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of mortals and winter alike. 

Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and Irina embark on a quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power and love.’

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.

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