Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

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.

Image result for spinning silverThis 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

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Seasonal favourites: Winter 2018

Winter is almost over (finally!) and I thought it was time to talk about some things I’ve been loving in the past couple of months. Obviously the most important things on this list are books – I’ve had a pretty good reading start to the year though I think that’s starting to change. I’ve also watched some amazing films and TV series and I want to share them with you.

First of all the best books of this winter were (in no particular order) Uprooted by Naomi Novik, La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. I’ve posted reviews on all of these books so I won’t get too much into details here, they were all wonderful and one of my favourite fantasy books of all times and I can’t wait to read them again. This winter has been great for reading fantasy literature.

The next thing I want to talk about is my favourite TV series (and no, it’s not Arrow). I actually started watching Victoria again and I love Jenna Coleman so much, I think she’s great as queen Victoria. I’m not a huge fan of the actor who plays Albert but maybe he’ll grow on me, I am currently still watching season 1 so perhaps that will change with season 2. This series has reminded me how much I love period dramas. Downton Abbey has got to be my favourite TV series and Victoria is just as wonderful.

I’ve seen quite a lot of films this past months but the one that sticks out is Black Panther. To tell you the truth, I am not the biggest Marvel fan because the stories are too similar for my liking and the films packed with action and not enough character development, but I went to see Black Panther on opening night and I my mind was blown away. IT WAS SO GOOD. Not only was the story more original and complex than in your average Marvel film but the female characters were just amazing. I can’t wait to see more of them in the upcoming Avengers film.

Moving on to my favourite music of this past winter, I actually didn’t listen to any new bands. However, I did listen to a lot of Disney soundtracks. I know, I know, I’m supposed to be an adult. But I learned that listening to Disney songs while studying or writing papers really helps me relax. Even now, I’m listening to a piano versions of the songs on Youtube and I feel surprisingly calm.

I can go on talking about my favourite food of this winter (chocolate cake with red wine infusion), my favourite drink (mint tea) and my favourite piece of clothing (my Harry Potter sweat pants) but I think those are pretty self explanatory. I’m trying to decide about a favourite moment but there were too many of them to choose from (plus I forgot like half of them). For my last favourite category I chose favourite book purchase and it has to be the illustrated version of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them because the illustrations are simply beautiful and I just love browsing through the pages.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose… (Blurb taken from Goodreads)

 

How to describe this wonderful jewel of a book? It is filled with singing charms and slowly kindled love and cruel enemies and ignorant princes and unexpected villains. Magic seeps through the pages and after you finish it, you can feel the words of a spell on your tongue. Yes, it’s that good.

The overall plot and the story share some similarities with Howl’s Moving Castle written by Diana Wynne Jones because we have a strong but distant wizard living in a tower/castle and a young girl, unaware of her magical potential, who joins him on his quest to save the kingdom from evil forces. Also, like Howl, Dragon is a grumpy, self-centered, solitary man who enjoys fine clothing and cannot admit when he is wrong. But the similarities end her and Uprooted takes you on a whole new level.

Can I just say how completely brilliant it is that the forest (yes, you heard right), the forest is the villain. I mean who comes up with that? I love walking through forests but this book gave me the creeps (I am now terrified of stick insects) and everytime I see the nearby forest, I immediately wonder if there are some strange creatures lurking around it. Also, the whole magical elements of this book are spectacular. It really makes you feel like you could be a witch/wizard just by singing songs and letting magic slip through the lines.

The romance! Oh, how I loved the slowly burning romance. Dragon was such a fun character, he was grumpy and obnoxious but also sweet and endearing. I loved the fact that the story didn’t concentrate on the romance part but it was still present. And how amazing was the friendship between Kasia and Agnieszka? When Agnieszka put herself on Kasia’s side instead of the Dragon’s, I thought to myself, yes, finally, friends are what’s important!

Agnieszka was such a wonderful lead character, she wasn’t perfect and pretty and helpless, no, she was really brave and she didn’t care what others thought of her and she was strong on her own. She didn’t just wait around for Dragon to help her, no, she went to the forest herself (yes, he did help her afterwards, but still, she fights like a lion on her own). Despite all the troubles she faced, she pushed through and fought for her home. And it is so refreshing to have the lead protagonsit clumsy and messy and not always beautiful like in most YA novels.

My favourite part of the book was the magic and the writing. The book reads like a mixture of a dark twisted fairy tale and a spell book and the two combined makes for an excellent reading experience. Also, even though I would love to read more about Agnieszka and Dragon, I’m glad this isn’t a series because I’m sort of getting tired of them because the quality of the books usually declines within a series.

The only thing I didn’t like was how little we know about Dragon. I want to know so much more about his life, his childhood, the previous girls that stayed with him and why he became so grumpy, because we don’t get to see who he is behind that mask of his. Other than that, this book became my all-time favourite after reading the first hundred or so pages.

It wasn’t that I wanted a husband and a baby; I didn’t, or rather, I only wanted them the way I wanted to live to a hundred someday, far off, never thinking about the particulars. But they meant life: she was living, and I wasn’t.

Naomi Novik, Uprooted