I don’t know what to say about this awesome book. Novik does a great job of developing three characters (Miryem, Wanda, and Irinushka). The setting of the story is great and we have a fire demon, a race of people called the Staryk who live in a wintery world that is adjacent to the Russia the story takes place in. I loved all three of these characters equally (which almost never happens). I wanted a follow-up story though about what happens to Miryem. The ending left me unsatisfied since I wanted to just keep reading more and more (a sign of a fantastic book).
“Spinning Silver” is a retelling of sorts of “Rumpelstiltskin”. We all know the story of the poor miller’s daughter who enchanted a king because she was able to turn straw into gold. This book turns that on it’s head a bit with the first part of the book told in Miryem’s voice dismissing the story and telling us readers what really happened. Miryem is the daughter of her small village’s moneylender. Her father is a good man, but a terrible moneylender and through the years he has accepted many reasons why the people who have borrowed from him can’t pay him back. When Miryem’s mother gets ill and could possibly die, Miryem takes things into her owns and starts collecting for her father. A part of Miryem goes cold inside to do this, but she would do it again and again to keep her mother well.
Wanda is a young girl dealing with an abusive father and two younger brothers. Her mother died in birth and before that her family buried five other babies. Wanda wants to be away from her father and is scared since she can tell he has plans to “sell” her off to be married. When Miryem comes to collect money from Wanda’s father, he agrees to rent out his daughter to do work at Miryem’s home. Wanda for the first time is able to see what a loving mother and father look and act like. And she is jealous and grateful to Miryem in equal turns.
Irinushka is a plain girl whose mother had some Staryk magic inside of her. Irinushka’s father has pretty much ignored her since her mother died, but now her father is paying attention to her and has plans for her that involved the tsar.
I know it seems like these are separate stories, but they all tie into one other throughout the book. We start with Miryem and Wanda for a while and then Novik adds on Irinushka.
The writing is pretty much my favorite thing. It reminds me of fairy tales I read as a kid though this one is much more grown up of course. The stakes are higher and for these three women there are no men or princes out there that are coming to save them. They in the end take their fates into their own hands. I also loved that one of the main characters, Miryem was Jewish and we got to read about her family’s religion and traditions. We also get to see how Miryem’s family was treated by others. This book takes place in Russia and we see how Jews are treated as a necessary evil and or inconvenience among many people. Even Wanda when she talks of Miryem at first talks about her being a Jew. But then she grows to love Miryem’s father and mother for themselves and she doesn’t see it anymore.
The flow of the book may feel stilted at first, but it grows more smooth. This book is a long one though. It’s 480 pages and at one point after reading for 2 hours I realized I had only read about 20 percent. It makes sense though, we have three main characters to follow and also Wanda’s younger brother at parts too.
The setting of this Russia taking place when it had tsars was fascinating to look at. During Irinushka’s POV we really get a chance to see how the politics of the day works. She who is seen as not important, has a better understanding of how men and women work in this day and age. With the country slowing growing colder and colder with a never ending winter, many are afraid of famine and death. And we also have the magical Staryk’s who come and take what they want when they want leaving many afraid. I loved how Novik only allows us a bit of information about the Staryk’s until we get more fully into Miryem’s story-line.
The ending was great. I didn’t know what was going to happen and it seemed that everyone was looking for a not so happily ever after. Highly recommend!