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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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8425716,110 (4.27)95



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English (55)  Dutch (1)  All languages (56)
Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
Miryem Mandelstam, the first of several first-person narrators, begins the book with a version of Rumpelstiltskin where the point of the tale is how to avoid paying your debts. This is something she knows about from first hand experience. She is the daughter of the village moneylender. Her softhearted father is completely unsuited to his profession. His clients are all deadbeats. His family is impoverished because nobody is making their payments. Frustrated and angry, Miryem decides to start to do the collecting herself. One morning she gets up early, knocks on the doors of the debtors and demands payment. Her anger makes her heart cold and impervious to excuses and sob stories. Unlike her father, she will not leave until she gets at least a partial payment in cash or goods.

"That part of the old story turned out to be true: you have to be cruel to be a good moneylender. But I was as ready to be as merciless with our neighbors as they’d been with my father. I didn’t take firstborn children exactly…"

But she does take Wanda, the tall, strong daughter of Gorek, one of the village’s most hopeless debtors, to be a servant. Miryem pays Wanda a half penny a day, with another half penny going to repay Gorek’s debt. Eventually, she teaches Wanda to keep the account books and do the collecting. And another voice is added to the story. Wanda is a bit frightened at first, when Miryem teaches her the “magic” of arithmetic and writing. But she also finds the now thriving Mandelstam home to be more hospitable and kinder than living with the drunken rages of her alcoholic father.

Miryem has amassed enough pennies to exchange them for silver kopeks and enough kopeks (ten) to turn them into a gold zlotek is another skill she teaches Wanda. When there are too many zloteks to keep around the house, Miryem takes them to her grandfather, a banker in Vysnia, forty miles away, for safekeeping. While Wanda remains behind to do the collecting and bookkeeping.

Unfortunately, Miryem’s reputation to turn silver into gold, attracts the unwanted attention of the Staryk. The Staryk are otherworldly supernatural creatures, somewhere between the malicious fairies of Celtic folklore and the Ice Giants of Nordic folklore. They are lords of winter and ice. They raid, murder, and rape the inhabitants of Wanda’s world with an insatiable appetite for gold. But they are rich is silver, and their tall, icy King wants Miryem for her alchemical ability to transmute silver into gold.

He comes to demand that Miryem turn six unearthly silver coins into gold. She takes them to a jewelry maker in Vysnia who melts them down and turns them into a ring. They sell the ring to the duke of Vysnia, and Miryem returns with six gold zloteks for the Staryk. But he comes again with ten times as many silver coins. Once again Miryem goes to Vysnia and the silver is made into a necklace.

The necklace is sold to the duke who gives it to his daughter Irina. And Irina’s voice enters the story. When the ordinary looking girl puts on the necklace, she is perceived by all who see her as a glamourous beauty. Men cannot take their eyes off her. More enchanted silver is transformed into a crown, and soon Irina becomes the Tsarina. Unfortunately, the Tsar is possessed by a demon that demands to suck the life and soul out of her.

The cultural ignorance and resulting misunderstandings fuel the tension. Clashes break out between the mortals and the Staryk, between masters and servants, and between Christians and Jews in this complex tale. Nevertheless, forged by necessity some unusual alliances are formed between the characters resulting in some unanticipated outcomes. Novik does a masterful job of blending elements of European folklore: Ashkenazi, Slavic, Celtic, Norse, and Greek, into her intertwined tale of two heroines engaged in a battle of fire and ice to save their people. ( )
  MaowangVater | Mar 12, 2019 |
Once upon a time, I read a book called UPROOTED and I found it to be a fabulous novel. So, I was thrilled to get the chance to read SPINNING SILVER, a new novel by Naomi Novik. Now this novel is a stand-alone fantasy novel that in some ways feels like a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin.

  MaraBlaise | Mar 8, 2019 |
I didn't much like this fantasy novel. It is long-winded, and the tone always hovers near "twee," too frequently crossing the line. For the most part, though, it is still an engaging fairy tale, and I appreciated most of the modern twists (despite some heavy-handed moralizing). ( )
  breic | Mar 1, 2019 |
The story is good and well-executed, except for two things. The romances and the points of view. Yes points, there are about six throughout the story and sometimes it jumps from one to another without any warning and this drew me out of the story. That and I didn't really feel that the romances had any build-up. It felt like one minute the characters hated each other and next minute they loved each other and there was no real building of relationships, even though the story was told from several of the female character point of view. Your mileage may vary and I've seen several people quite effusive about this story, so take my opinion with enough salt.

The story is that of Rumpelstiltskin, mostly, and a winter king and Chernobog and a few other tales I'm sure (my knowledge of Russian Folk tales is not as good as other genres) and it's from the point of view of some of the women involved and it has twists and turns that give the female heroines more agency. The characters are well-drawn and interesting and I enjoyed it for the most part, except where I couldn't tell who was narrating because the paragraph break wasn't enough of a clue (I like books where the chapter headings tell me who is talking to me) it broke the stream of the story because I had to back-track to see who I was dealing with. I'm sure it might work better for others (and I've seen some reviews where the audiobook narrator does quite a good job of dealing with this in their opinion).

So overall not a bad read I just would like to have had it formatted better and to have a better romance for the characters. ( )
  wyvernfriend | Feb 18, 2019 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 55 (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.)
Disambiguation notice
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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