I was so excited to get Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik as part of the book exchange because I loved Uprooted and had read and enjoyed the first book in Novik’s Temeraire series this summer.
This is a loose (very loose) retelling of Rumpelstiltskin set in a past both realistic and imaginary and involving three young women. Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, and she takes over her father’s business when his inability to demand payment leaves her family almost destitute and her mother falls ill. She turns out to be quite good at this job. Wanda is a peasant girl who Miryem hires to work off her father’s debt; however, Wanda is happy to leave her abusive home, where her mother has died and her father drinks up any money he earns. She tells her father that she is making half of what Miryem is paying her so she can double the time she spends working for Miryem’s family. The third young woman is Irina, the plain daughter of a wealthy Duke, who chafes at the fact that Irina’s looks will not help advance the family’s political fortunes.
The fates of these three women intertwine when Miryem finds a bag of Staryk silver on her doorstep. The Staryk are a winter people, both magical and deadly, and their raids on nearby farms and villages have grown more frequent in recent years. Miryem knows that the Staryk want her to turn that silver into gold and that failure could result in not only her death but the death of everyone she loves.. She heads to the nearest city, Vysnia, to do so and the wheels of a complex but intriguing plot are set in motion.
There are so many things to like about this novel though it takes some flexibility to get used to the shifts in point of view and some patience to see how all the parts of this story eventually come together. The fact that there isn’t just one female protagonist but three works well and though they come from different worlds, Miryem, Wanda, and Irina all strive to create news futures for themselves and their families. Finally, the combination of magic and historical detail make for a potent mix that helps this story feel both timeless and grounded.