Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
Publisher: Del Rey
Publishing Date: July 10
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.
Miryem’s family is falling further into poverty as winter continues to wage battle on her village. She takes it upon herself to collect the debts owed her father the night it seems her mother may die. As she brings in wealth for her family, the Staryk — the creatures of bitter cold, snow, and ice — take notice of her abilities to turn silver to gold, and bargain with her. One bargain turns into another, and soon enough Miryem has trapped herself and others in the kingdom in a vicious battle between humanity and demons.
This was immensely darker, far more rooted in Eastern European lore, and heavy with Jewish custom and atmosphere, than Uprooted ever was (and you know how much I loved the idea of a forest as the enemy). And though a part of me wondered if anything good would ever happen for these characters, any ounce of hope, I have to say it: this was even better than Uprooted. If that was even possible.
The women in this novel were so varied, so strong, and so kickass! Miryem takes up the family business out of survival and necessity. Soon Miryem’s family hires Wanda, a young woman who needs to be away from her father and save her brothers from his wrath. Miryem and a family friend design Staryk silver jewelry to sell to the duke’s daughter Irina, to help her become tsarina. Irina’s servant and motherly figure watches with pride and anticipation as Irina battles the demon inside the tsar.
There are other voices in this novel, and it was so neat to see the way Novik weaves them together throughout the chapters. Each person truly had a different voice, without chapter name indicators as is so often done in multi-POV, depending on their socioeconomic status, age, and level of education. These context clues (up until their name is addressed by another character) add so many layers to the story. It was a beautiful and enchanting read.
At its core, it’s more than an Eastern European spin on “Rumpelstiltskin.” It also has the beating heart of Jewish history and culture. The novel has this pulsing ache of despair coupled with the determined urgency to find hope. The characters, most especially Miryem, will do whatever it takes to save family, friends, and loved ones, and to find that sense of peace, hope, and joy at the end of this long tunnel of desperation and doubt. To see it played out like this — and how the consequences of one character’s actions impact a whole country, an entire kingdom — was an adventure in and of itself.
Those final sentences? Slay me. I die.
Spinning Silver will capture your heart and hold fast from beginning to end.
Thank you, Del Rey, for providing this book at PLA for review!