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. (blurb taken from Goodreads)
After I finished reading Uprooted at the start of the year which instantly became one of my favourite fantasy standalones, I was so eager to get to this book. I just knew I would love it as much as Uprooted because Novik has a wonderful writing style, magical and fairy tale inspired and she crafts such detailed worlds in her books, you are immediately transported to them after reading just one chapter. I was a bit scared at first because I kept wondering: “What if I don’t like the book? How can it possibly be as good as Uprooted?” but all my fears were squashed to death in the first hundred or so pages. This story captured my heart and filled me with so much joy.
The book is told by three main protagonists but we also get individual chapters which are written from the POV of other characters so we really get a rounded story at the end of it. I was a bit confused about the different narrators at the beginning because the chapters are only marked with numbers so you don’t immediately tell there’s been a shift in narration but once I picked up on that, it was fairly easy to see the different writing styles that each girl used to tell her side of the story.
This book is the perfect balance of character and plot driven narrative. Miryem, Wanda and Irina are all so different from each other but interesting in their own way and I was blown away by how the author changed her writing according to whichever girl was telling the story. That shows real skill! My favourite character was Miryem and I loved reading about her ventures in the winter kingdom. I think she was insanely brave and determined and heart warmingly generous.
Novik spins such a wonderful web of different stories; we have the fairy tale element, the retelling of the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, the historical background set around the Russian history and social injustice and religous prejudice towards the Jews, then we get to see some feminist ideas when Wanda refuses to marry the man her father picked for her. There is politics, the ever present battle for power, the good old darkness vs light power struggle, we have a bit of romance (although not enough for my taste, I have to admit) and at the center of it all is the friendship and love and compassion which holds us together.
I can’t say which book I loved more: Uprooted or Spinning Silver. They were both set in the same world and had elements of fairy tale and fantasy which were superbly portrayed and both books had such interesting female characters. I think I can honestly say that I love both books equally. Since I read Uprooted in Slovenian translation, it’s hard to compare the language but I can without doubt say that Novik’s writing style is rich and full of imagery, it fits so perfectly with the detailed world she has built.
The only thing that confused me in this book was the way the Staryk king spoke: I had to reread some of his paragraphs just to make sure I knew what he was saying because the language he uses is archaic. Still that adds to the experience and well done for thinking of it. Novik is without a doubt one of my favourite fantasy authors and I have yet to tackle her Temeraire series. I’m pretty sure I’m going to love it.
“But it was all the same choice, every time. The choice between the one death and all the little ones.”
Naomi Novik, Spinning Silver