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Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Spinning Silver

by Naomi Novik

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
I found this a fully engrossing story - I had difficulty putting it down and I was sorry when it was over. It has the feel of a fairy tale and many familiar fairy tale tropes, but the three female leads are such interesting and fully realized characters. The male characters are a little more of a cypher - we really only see most of them through the eyes of their female companions. Both the winter fairy world and the real world of the village and town feel genuine, and I loved the added layer of having a Jewish family so much at the center of the story. ( )
  duchessjlh | Feb 12, 2019 |
(#) denotes first-person narrator, starting with Miryem; each following narrator is woven into the story, one at a time, throughout.

Complex and intricate as a tapestry and imbued with magic, Spinning Silver reimagines and expands the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, starting with (1) Miryem, a moneylender's daughter. Miryem's parents, Panov Mandelstam and Panova Mandelstam, are kind people - too kind to collect from the people they lend money to, who take advantage of them. Miryem decides she must be the strong, cold one, in order to make sure her ailing mother makes it through the winter with enough warmth and food, so she goes collecting in town. Soon, the Mandelstams are doing much better, and Miryem recruits (2) Wanda to work for them to pay off her father's debt. Wanda is a strong, simple girl whose father drinks and abuses her and her two younger brothers, Sergey and (3) Stepon.

Miryem's life gets more complex when the Staryk king overhears her claim of being able to change silver to gold; three times, he gives her Staryk silver coins, which she takes to a jeweler in Vysnia; he makes them into a ring, a necklace, and a crown, which are sold to a duke, who gives them to his daughter, (4) Irina, to entrance the tsar into marrying her. Irina is not beautiful and has always been undervalued by her father; her only consistent company is her nurse, (5) Magreta, who accompanies her when she is married to the tsar, (6) Mirnatius...who turns out to be host to a fire demon, Chernobog.

Wearing two of the three pieces of Staryk jewelry, Irina discovers that she is able to move through any reflective surface (mirror, water) into the Staryk kingdom, where she is safe from Mirnatius/Chernobog. Miryem, unwillingly married to the Staryk king (who is also not excited about the match, but made the deal), is also there, and makes another deal to get out: if she can change three storerooms of the Staryk king's silver into gold, he will let her return to her world and her family. Meeting in the Staryk realm, Miryem and Irina hatch a plan to bring the Staryk king and Chernobog together, hoping they will kill each other and free the girls.

The story is full of smart, strong, resourceful, kind girls. No one is purely evil (except, perhaps, Chernobog, but not Mirnatius). Familiar fairy tale conventions are adhered to: a kingdom of magical beings who prolong winter, value pride, won't break their word, and protect their own names; patterns of three; enchanted silver that provides protection/escape for its wearer; a tree that grows from a magical seed; a house in two realms at once; kindness rewarded. (The Mandelstams are particularly kind, to Wanda and her brothers, who are innocent and good-hearted.)

See also: Uprooted by Naomi Novik, the Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden


"Well, my daughter really can turn silver to gold," he said, almost helplessly, and he put his hand on my head and stroked it, as if he was sorry instead of proud. (Miryem, 50)

Of course I was afraid. But I had learned to fear other things more: to be despised, to be whittled down one small piece of myself at a time, to be smirked at and taken advantage of. (Miryem, 74)

As she dropped her hand and turned back into the room, our eyes met: we didn't speak, but for a moment I felt her a sister, our lives in the hands of others. She wasn't likely to have any more choice in the matter than I did. (Miryem with Irina,101)

But I suppose he'd come to rely so much on his magic that he'd never learned to think. The only thing that had ever done me any good in my father's house was thinking: no one had cared what I wanted, or whether I was happy. I'd had to find my own way to anything I wanted. I'd never been grateful for that before now, when what I wanted was my life. (Irina, 183)

But it was all the same choice, every time. The choice between the one death and all the little ones. (Miryem, 202)

Anger was a fire in a grate, and I'd never had any wood to burn. Until now, it seemed. (Irina, 211)

I would have thought my situation rather an object lesson in being careful what you wished for. (Mirnatius, 267)

"That is all we can do for each other in the world, to keep the wolf away." (Panova Mandelstam to Wanda, 286)

But I had not known that I was strong enough to do any of those things until they were over and I had done them. I had to do the work first, not knowing. (Wanda, 354)

But the world I wanted wasn't the world I lived in, and if I would do nothing until I could repair every terrible thing at once, I would do nothing forever. (Irina, 376)

...high magic: magic that came only when you made some larger version of yourself with words and promises, and then stepped inside and somehow grew to fill it. (Miryem, 411) ( )
  JennyArch | Feb 5, 2019 |
I'm pretty meh about this one. Perfect as a winter read, yet definitely felt too long, and then it adds more and more POVs, and then it tells the same scene from more than one POV which felt redundant rather than insightful.

But I loved Miryem and Wanda -- I hoped they'd end up together Miryem ends up with the Staryk king which I felt was the safe (typical) ending.) -- especially how they helped each other; no petty jealousies or fighting over a man or back-biting. Irina, though, I'm on the fence about. I liked how she really came into her own and found her voice, but her story felt like overkill to me. I guess she's meant to balance out Miryem's - fire and ice - I just didn't like Irina much, especially after she led Chernobog into the Staryk kindgom.

What I'll remember most, after the 3 women, is the mashup of so many fairy tales, folklore and myths. There's Rumpelstiltskin and Koschei the Deathless and Baba Yaga and more, lots more!

Note to self: This was my first novel by Novik. I may give Uprooted a shot, at some point.
  flying_monkeys | Feb 4, 2019 |
This book is everything. Yes there are a lot of POV’s and it can get a little confusing for a minute figuring out who’s narrating, but Novik’s writing is so beautifully amazing.

I’m going to be honest with you, I’m sure there will probably be quite a few people who will not like this novel. It’s not fluffy, the writing itself is heavy (similar to the feel of a classic), the story moves at its own pace and with so many different narrators and story lines it can get a bit confusing every now and then. But life itself is confusing, people are confusing why wouldn’t this story be as well.

All the characters and plot points aside, this book is fantastic purely for allowing me to understand even a little, the plights of the Jewish people. This may be a fantasy novel but the hatred and animosity Miryem and her family face simply for being Jewish, for collecting the debts of those that are owed to them were very real occurrences. Occurrences that shaped the stigma that is still present today.

I was so angry at the townspeople, so sad at the disparity Miryem’s family faced and I kept reading just hoping that the people would see their wrongness, beg forgiveness from this family they would have happily let starve. I grew so invested in the wellbeing of Miryem and her family, that regardless of a confusing narration, I couldn’t put it down. I had to know what would become of my little family. I sighed and my heart raced for Uprooted, I ached and angered, shaking my fist at Spinning Silver and now I wait inconsolable for Novik’s next work. ( )
  NerdyHousewifey | Feb 1, 2019 |
I very much enjoyed Spinning Silver. Usually I don’t want to know too much about a book before I start it, I like to be completely surprised. I’d read that the book was a fairy tale retold, Rumplestiltskin, and this is one of my favorite genres. I was pleasantly surprised by the Judaic underpinning of the story. Is there much Judaism in most fairy tales? I can’t think of any. So that aspect completely drew me in. I’m also enthralled when clever women discover their own power and when characters can change the way they view life and other people. Alas, I found the story dragged in parts. I can’t say I like long or short stories better, I like them to be as long as they need to be. I thought Spinning Silver had a little padding, but other than that was delighted by it. ( )
1 vote Citizenjoyce | Jan 10, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
[A] book of not very comforting stories, a big and meaty novel, rich in both ideas and people, with the vastness of Tolkien and the empathy and joy in daily life of Le Guin.
added by melmore | editNew York Times, Choire Sicha (Aug 3, 2018)

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Naomi Novikprimary authorall editionscalculated
Delort, NicolasCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Shea, TaraIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stevenson, David G.Cover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The real story isn't half as pretty as the one you've heard.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This novel was expanded from a short story also entitled "Spinning Silver" which was published in the anthology "The Starlit Wood"
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"Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father is not a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has left his family on the edge of poverty--until Miryem intercedes. Hardening her heart, she sets out to retrieve what is owed, and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold. But when an ill-advised boast brings her to the attention of the cold creatures who haunt the wood, nothing will be the same again. For words have power, and the fate of a kingdom will be forever altered by the challenge she is issued"--… (more)

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