Spinning Silver is a standalone retelling of Rumpelstiltskin and the perfect winter book, which makes me wonder why it was published halfway through July.
It’s an atmospheric, slow-paced wintry story, and I loved almost all of it; what surprised me the most about it was how subversive it was.
I have read a lot of fantasy books, both adult and YA, and if Spinning Silver can be in a way considered a “crossover”, I can say that I had never read a book similar to this one in either age ranges.
Spinning Silver, just like Uprooted, incorporates many elements from different fairytales and Eastern European folklore, and while the plot is completely its own, it feels like a fairytale while you read it. It’s not easy to maintain that kind of atmosphere in a book with multiple PoVs, but Novik does it effortlessly with six of them, each one with its own distinctive voice. I never confused them, and all the main characters were as developed as they needed to be.
But that’s only one of the reasons Spinning Silver stood out to me. There are many others: the Jewish representation in a fantasy novel, the subversion of antisemitic stereotypes, the way the many plotlines came together, the writing, the unforgettable characters.
❄ Miryem is a young Jewish woman and the daughter of a moneylender – a bad one, as he never asks people to repay their debts. Miryem’s family is starving, and because of that, Miryem starts to collect money herself, until the Staryk (faery-like creatures of winter) start to notice her. Is she truly able to turn silver into gold?
❄ Irina is the ugly, unwanted daughter of a duke, but because of magical Staryk jewels, her father is able to marry her off to the Tsar. I rarely see heroines who actually know what they’re doing when there’s political intrigue involved, so reading about Irina was refreshing. She has to make a lot of difficult decisions, and her chapters were my favorites.
❄ Wanda is a girl who lives in Miryem’s village. Her father is abusive, an alcoholic who wastes all his money on Krupnik, and Wanda is working in Miryem’s house to repay her debts.
❄ Stepon is Wanda’s younger brother. He, Wanda and their brother Sergey have to work together to survive their father and the winter, which never seems to end.
❄ Magreta is Irina’s nursemaid. We rarely get the point of view of old women in fantasy novels, and I really liked having her perspective.
❄ Mirnatius, reluctant Tsar, evil sorcerer and possessed boy, is a character I can’t say much about without spoilers, but I loved how his storyline was developed.
Spinning Silver is a story about women, women we don’t often see in fantasy novels – older women, Jewish women, women who are neither fighters nor pretty – and about marriage, and in a way also about being a daughter, or a mother. It’s one of the most refreshing fantasy books I’ve read in a long while.
In this book, the magic system isn’t explained, and the worldbuilding is not developed past “fantasy Lithuania” – the way Uprooted was inspired by Poland – but I didn’t have any problem with it. Spinning Silver is meant to feel like a fairytale, and I feel like explanations would ruin the magic.
The only thing I didn’t love about this book was the pacing. For me, it was too slow and it had barely any plot for the first 100 pages. Also, not all points of view were as interesting – I flew through Irina’s and Miryem’s chapter and put down the book every time I had to read about Wanda or Stepon, even if I liked them.
I may not have liked Spinning Silver exactly as much as Uprooted because of this, but I loved its complexity and atmosphere, and I feel like it’s perfect for everyone who liked Novik’s previous book, The Bear and the Nightingale or Girls Made of Snow and Glass.
(also, if you liked Spinning Silver, check those books out!)
My rating: ★★★★¾