REPRESENTATION: Jewish MC
GENRES/ SUBJECTS: Fantasy
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.
Spinning Silver is the second Naomi Novik book I’ve read. I started Uprooted sometime last year but, despite the fact I did enjoy it, I put it down around 50% and kind of just didn’t pick it back up. Spinning Silver was a much better fit for me.
At the root of the story is Miryem: a Jewish, moneylenders daughter. Unfortunately Miryem‘s father isn’t very good at his job, and as much as the town distrusts and disrespects him they also simply don’t pay back their debts. Miryem, during a hard winter, decides pick up the slack and eventually catches the attention of someone she shouldn’t. There are multiple POVs gradually introduced throughout the novel, with two other main characters being protagonists in their own right on a level with Miryem. Wanda, who’s working of her abusive father’s debt’s and Irina, who marries the Tsar only to find out he’s gone secrets of his own.
The three girls fates are interconnected and Novak weaves in lots of different elements: a historical-fantasy version of Lithuania (with Russia and Poland mixed in a little), Miryem’s Jewish faith, the winter fae, Slavic folklore and just a touch of Rumpelstiltskin.
Many of the reviews already available have described better than I can how beautiful Novik’s prose and world-building are — and both are completely stunning — so I’m not going to linger over that. I will say that the settings and societies (at different levels for different characters) are deep and immersive. Spinning Silver is wonderfully evocative, and you can completely and utterly imagine yourself experiencing every single scene.
However, my favourite part of Spinning Silver was the characters. And, as strong as the ensemble is, Miryem, Wanda and Irina are definitely the stars. What I loved most was that, at various point in the story, each one of them is allowed to be a pretty unlikeable character. Miryem has no qualms about chasing her neighbour’s debt no matter what they think of it, Wanda at one point wonders whether or not she should save her brother because technically he’s never done anything for her, and Irina is willing to make very difficult decisions for the good of her people. Ultimately they’re all heroes, but I loved this complexity the characters were given. To have characters making pragmatic choices, taking morally-grey standpoints and sometimes being unlikeable to the reader — while not painting them as the villain — is something I love and few author’s can pull off. Especially for female characters. So few women are allowed to be pragmatic and unlikable without being evil or the bad guy.
I loved seeing how these three clever, conflicted and complicated women grew and interacted with one another. This sort of realistic and romanticized female character is something I’m always looking for in stories, and Spinning Silver delivered with a vengeance.