Couldn’t help myself with the title for the review 🙂 Mysterious Galaxy recommened Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon, first in the Temeraire series, way back when it came out in 2006. I instantly fell in love with concept, the dragons during the Napoleonic wars. However, somewhere around book 5 I lost interest and never finished the series. Then I sort of forgot about her as an author. In the past few years Novik’s name kept popping up for Uprooted and Spinning Silver and I was intrigued. Having just finished Spinning Silver, I’m now impressed at the depth of her re-imagining the Rumplestiltskin fairy tale.
The Rumplestiltskin story is barely recognizable but thematic elements are the bones for Spinning Silver. Doing an impossible task three times, the power of names, and, of course, turning silver to gold. Instead of one hapless female trapped by her father’s folly and a king’s greed, Novik created three women (Miryem, Wanda, and Irina) unhappy in their state of affairs, who pull themselves up to be greater than their starting circumstances. The king and Rumplestiltskin have been replaced with a fairy king of winter and an unstable tsar. Both of whom seem to be “bad guys” but they have deeper layers too. The inspiration came from the original but this is wholly Novik’s tale.
While the story is shared through multiple viewpoints, it begins and ends with Miryem. Miryem’s father is a soft-hearted moneylender who would rather starve than try to collect outstanding debts. When her mother falls ill, Miryem takes matters into her own hands by running the business. By refusing to take no for an answer, she begins recouping the back interest owed. Sometimes taking trade to pay debt and then reselling the goods, Miryem is slowly growing her fortune by using hard work to build up silver coins to be exchanged for gold. What she is doing isn’t magical but her boasts of turning silver to gold reach the fairy lord’s ears. When given the task of changing silver coins for gold, the simple solution would be to exchange her gold coins for the fairy’s silver. However, that would be a loss of income, so Miryem comes up with a plan to sell the fairy’s silver for gold, and use those gold coins to give the fairy. The fairy lord has plans for Miryem and changing the silver to gold is but the beginning.
Nothing is as it first seems and there are levels of connection to events that seem unrelated. Miryem, Wanda, and Irina are continually underestimated by the people around them but they use their intelligence to create space for themselves and take control of their stories. I also particularly liked that Miryem was Jewish and her faith often directs her actions. Like many a good fairy tale, this too has a “happily ever after” and I give it four stars. Uprooted is going on my “wish list”.