Wednesday, May 18, 2022

TBR Challenge: Naomi Novik - Spinning Silver

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father's inability to collect his debts has left his family on the edge of poverty--until Miryem takes matters into her own hands. Hardening her heart, the young woman sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold.
When an ill-advised boast draws the attention of the king of the Staryk--grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh--Miryem's fate, and that of two kingdoms, will be forever altered. Set an impossible challenge by the nameless king, Miryem unwittingly spins a web that draws in a peasant girl, Wanda, and the unhappy daughter of a local lord who plots to wed his child to the dashing young tsar.
But Tsar Mirnatius is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of humans and Staryk alike. Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and her two unlikely allies embark on a desperate quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power, and love.
Channeling the vibrant heart of myth and fairy tale, Spinning Silver weaves a multilayered, magical tapestry that readers will want to return to again and again.

Comment: The TBR Challenge theme for May is "tales of old" and my personal interpretation went along the lines of something which was related to old stories or legends or the kind of things we might have heard from our grandmother. Anyway, it reminded me of stories that nowadays have gotten into myth/folklore status and that is why I chose this fantasy novel by Naomi Novik. I had previously read her book Uprooted and while the reading wasn't much fun, I liked it enough to feel curious about this one. Thankfully, now I can say this one was way more captivating for me. 

In this novel we meet Miryem, who after seeing how much her parents struggle because her father isn't assertive on his moneylender skills, she decides to do it herself and things improve, but one day she recklessly boasts about her abilities and the starik king, a fey-like creature, decides to take her to his kingdom so she can turn silver into gold. At the same time, Wanda, an impoverished woman, starts working for Miryem's parents, as a way to pay off a debt of her father. In yet another case, Irina must prepare herself for the fact the tsar, a very dangerous man, has chosen her to be his bride and she knows this might mean her life won't be long. These three women will see their path converse at some point, but will it there be time enough to save their loved ones and their land from a terrible fate?

I had a great time reading this story. One of those one feels immersed so well that when it was necessary to stop for some reason, I actually would feel annoyed by it. I think the author did a wonderful job in creating such a web that this felt complex and compelling.

Looking what what I thought about the other book by her I tried, I see this one was a lot more pleasant to read. There is some less than good content (plot wise) but somehow that wasn't as difficult to accept as I felt with what happened in the other book, in terms of how the characters had been affected by plot situations and their decisions. This doesn't have to mean anything in general but for me this made the reading experience more appealing, this idea that despite the problems, the characters had the moral compass and the love on their side as "tools" to help them navigate the choices made.

Of course this is highlighted closer to the end, after some things we believed to have happened one way actually had a different explanation. When the heroines make up a plan to save the world, so to speak, they discover key information a bit too late and this will affect how we think of them, but the author did a good planning and every action is paid. In fact, the content sits very heavily on this notion of a debt needing to be paid, and every action, every decision, somehow has to be paid or leveled so that the character in question can sort of move on. The writing is very intricate and even if one considers she based it on fairy tales or other stories, the shape of her work is complex and captivating indeed.

There is a lot to be said about the things included in this novel, and many reviewers have mentioned the Jew content, the feminist one, the cultural one... all this did help in creating a rich and compelling read but I will admit what caught my attention the most were the protagonists and their personal paths. I did like their paths connected and that at some moment they would need each others' help but I felt invested in them as individuals and I think their personalities were fleshed out very well, which means that, for me, each little thing from the other elements natural and more interesting to read about because of how they were like and how they behaved.

Meryem is fascinating, we could say she sparked the whole thing with bad timing but her path was wonderful to follow and while I dreaded the magical aspect of her being locked in the starik world, there was something about that that made me think about how important it would be for her in the end. Wanda, I feel, was the one with less gravitas, because her path didn't seem to conduct into a specific finale, she was more like a link between other characters and while I liked her a lot, especially thinking about her life before she joined Meryiem's family, I love that she found happiness, but I hoped for more for her. Irina proved to be one of those characters that goes from mouse to savior and her choices felt the most challenging, but I liked how what she does depended a lot on her own courage and assertiveness.

The magical aspects in this novel were all intriguing and added a lot of mystery and dread, as if something could happen at any time and we didn't see it coming because we didn't properly think things through. This, combined with the protagonists' "quests" made for a very addictive reading and even though we have a few more POVs, the three girls convinced me of the need of their choices and the difficulty of their tasks. This meant that when their final scenes happen, I was both relieved they succeeded and happy they had good things to look for.

This is not a romance story but for those who like it in fantasy as well, there's enough of it to suggest a HEA of sorts. In fact, if there is one element - besides how long it takes for certain situations to be set and happen, the story does drag here and there - the element I would complain the most about is how unclear some little things are. I understand the idea was to convey whimsical and that feeling of old tales when things were inferred, and alluded, instead of modern explanations for every single thing, but I do wish we had a bit more development on what happened after. I'm greedy and would have wanted more about the girls' lives after they win their HEAs.

This book convinced me and I will likely read more novels by the author.
Grade: 8/10


  1. I went with a bodice ripper for tales of old but it had fae in it, too :)
    I have Irish heritage, so fairies always draw me in. This sounds good, I'm going to keep it in mind for Halloween Bingo!

    1. I think the writing was great in this book and the story truly compelling. I think you will have a good time reading it. :)