Book Review: Spinning Silver


Spinning Silver

Written by Naomi Novik

480 pages

Published by Macmillan

Publication date: 12th July 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

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.

The real story isn’t half as pretty as the one you’ve heard.

The real story is, the miller’s daughter with her long golden hair wants to catch a lord, a prince, a rich man’s son, so she goes to the moneylender and borrows for a ring and a necklace and decks herself out for the festival. And she’s beautiful enough, so the lord, the prince, the rich man’s son notices her, and dances with her, and tumbles her in a quiet hayloft when the dancing is over, and afterwards he goes home and marries the rich woman his family has picked out for him.

Then the miller’s despoiled daughter tells everyone that the moneylender’s in league with the devil, and the village runs him out or maybe even stones him, so at least she gets to keep the jewels for a dowry, and the blacksmith marries her before that firstborn child comes along a little early.

Because that’s what the story’s really about: getting out of paying your debts. That’s not how they tell it, but I knew. My father was a moneylender, you see.

He wasn’t very good at it.

First impressions: I wanted to read this straightaway because I loved Uprooted. I am a massive fan of reimagined or ‘fractured’ fairytales so I have been very fond of the fashion for retellings over the last few years.

I liked how Uprooted drew on folklore and fairytales. Recently, I have also been reading some Russian fairytales and some books based around them (The Bear and the Nightingale, The House with Chicken Legs etc) so I was excited to see that Spinning Silver drew on these, as well as the fact that it sounded like it was using Rumplestiltskin, not one of the more commonly recycled fairytales.

Also, look at the beautiful cover!

I still regret not getting a hardback of Uprooted as I was out of the country when it came out so I have just bought a copy of Spinning Silver in hardback to make sure I don’t miss out on it too!

I loved following Miryem on her journey, from being the granddaughter of a very good moneylender and the daughter of a very poor one, to taking matters into her own hands and turning difficulty into prosperity. The introduction of the Staryk raised the stakes even further, with a careless boast leading to all sorts of problems for her. Just like in the old fairytales, which are often darker than the Disney-ified version that is most popular, the supernatural forces that she tangles with are capricious and could be deadly.

We are then introduced to Wanda, an ordinary girl who suffers at the hands of a drunken father and wants to protect her brothers. When she catches wind of her father selling her off as a bride, she takes her fate into her won hands and it becomes entangled with Miryem’s. Finally we meet the third of our female protagonists, Irina, the rather-plan daughter of a lord who is able to catch the eye of the tsar himself thanks to the power of enchanted silver jewellery. Yet, the tsar is home to something far more powerful and malevolent than she could ever have imagined…

The threads of the narrative wind tighter and tighter, finally bringing these three women together in a scenario where each of their strength and determination helps them to decide their own path. These are powerful women, without wielding a weapon, flawed, real and gripping.

I loved all the little snippets of folklore and fairytales in each of the three narratives, the little nods towards a shared narrative history, yet with elements from history and a distinctly modern outlook.

If you liked Uprooted, you will love this. And, if you haven’t read either yet, what are you waiting for?

Spinning Silver will enthrall you from the first sentence, drawing you tighter into the story with every twist. Even if you’re reading it on a hot summer day, be prepared to feel the shiver of an icy wind…

Enthralling, atmospheric and with plenty of girlpower, this is a re-imagined fairytale like no other!

My mother’s face was full of misery. We didn’t speak.

Would you rather we were sill poor and hungry?”

I burst out to her finally, the silence between us heavy in the midst of the dark woods, and she put her arms around me and kissed me and said, “My darling, my darling, I’m sorry,” weeping a little.

“Sorry?” I said. “To be warm instead of cold? To be rich and comfortable? To have a daughter who can turn silver into gold?”

I pushed away from her.

“To see you harden yourself to ice, to make it so,” she said.

The horses trotted on more swiftly, but the Staryk road kept pace with us all the way home, shining between the trees. I could feel it on my side, a shimmer of colder wind trying to press against me and pierce through to my skin, but I didn’t care.

I was colder inside than out.

What I liked: I liked how the story was based on Russian folklore, the way several stories are melded together, the real-life aspects of anti-semitism which added an extra depth, the character development, particularly as the ‘baddies’ generally turn out to be more nuanced. I loved the central figures of each story being female, as well as the fact that they all changed their destinies through brains and hard work – you don’t have to have a sword to be kick-ass!

Even better if: Can I have Naomi Novik’s next book already?

How you could use it in your classroom: This would be a great book for older secondary pupils or at college/ university when looking at comparative literature and how all of the original threads from folklore, fairytale and history have been woven together to create a multi-faceted, rich story. I would also love to look at how he familiarity of fairytales affects our experience with this story e.g. the tree who contains the spirit of Wanda’s mother and the nut (like Cinderella) and the ‘witch’s house’ where certain tasks must be completed in return for hospitality, etc.

(Thank you to Netgalley and Macmillan for my e-ARC and to my local Waterstones for having a signed copy of the hardback!)

While you’re here, why not check out my reviews of Gilded Cage, The First Dance, Starfish, Run Wild or The Storm Keeper’s Island?

Find me on Twitter , Goodreads or Instagram

Thanks for reading!

27 Comments Add yours

  1. That sounds like an awesome book–I love that the main characters are all female and that it takes place in Russia! Thanks for putting this on my radar. Incidentally, if you like Russian folklore and retold fairy tales, you should read Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire. I think it would be right up your alley.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the recommendation! I will look up Egg and Spoon! Hope you enjoy Spinning Silver 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so excited to read Spinning Silver 🙂 I’m currently reading (slowly) Uprooted among other books but I think it’s a little dense for my mood at the moment. I really want to love it so I think I’ll need to put it down until I’m back in that fairytale mood.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Both Spinning Silver and Uprooted are quite serious, dense reads but very rewarfing when you’re in the right mood! I am a massive mood reader too!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Being a mood reader is good but sometimes it can get in the way of some really good books. I think I’ve just read too many retellings lately that I haven’t enjoyed so I’m taking a break with some lighter fantasy. (I’m actually re-reading Caraval in anticipation for Legendary because I unexpectedly felt the urge too)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I really enjoyed Caraval and am glad that I missed the hype for it – need to read Legendary soon! I think it’s good to have a wide diet of books just like with food 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’m actually enjoying it so much more the second time around. Now that I’ve distanced myself from the hype it’s moving from an original 4 star read to maybe a 5 star read.


  3. I had the exact same feeling re: getting a hardcover of this one, haha. I have tried looking for Uprooted US hardcover online but it’s expensive! My guess is there weren’t so many printed. Anyway, I loved it just as much as Uprooted, which I think is some kind of miracle on Novik’s part – rarely does a ‘sequel’ hold up to the first!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Uprooted was so popular that I think there was a lot of pressure on Spinning Silver! I will keep my eyes peeled for a hardcover!


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