An Ode to Winter Hiking
Book Review: Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal

Book Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Favorite Quote: “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 Spinning silver 1

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik is a reworking of the “Rumplestiltskin” fairytale and Russian mythology. The story is mostly told through three different women: Miryem, Wanda, and Irina. Miryem is the daughter of a moneylender—an unsuccessful moneylender who doesn’t have the temperament to force people to pay their debts. Tired of living in poverty while others thrive on her family’s wealth, Miryem takes up her father’s business, and has soon turned her family’s fortune around. Wanda is the daughter of one of Miryem’s customers. Wanda’s father owes Miryem a large debt, but every time he gets any money he spends it on drinking, so when she insists he pay her something, he offers Wanda. Each day, Wanda walks to Miryem’s house, where she bakes, cleans, and takes care of the goats to pay off her father’s debt. Irina is the daughter of a duke; her father is miserly but shrewd, and when he sees the opportunity for his daughter to marry the Tsar, he grabs it. Her mother, who died at Irina’s birth, was rumored to have the blood of the fey, but Irina doesn’t seem to have any—until her father buys a ring made of Staryk silver.

These three women’s lives interact and weave around and into each other’s in unexpected ways as the story progresses. The conflict is sparked by Miryem boasting that she could turn silver into gold. As the fey (called the Staryk) who live in the woods surrounding the community love gold, this draws their king’s attention. The fey, known for their violence against any humans found on their side of the wood, are encroaching more and more on the human world, causing winter to linger far into late spring, and as Miryem is drawn into their world, she discovers a way to possibly end this fey power.

This book came out in the summer, but one of my good reading friends recommended I wait until winter to read it, so I started it after Christmas and finished it in January. I’m glad I listened to her advice, as the book is a perfect winter read. And it was worth the way. I was really excited to read it, as I also loved her fantasy/fairytale-esque Uprooted. I made the wait easier by reading the short story that sparked the novel, which is found in the story collection The Starlit Wood. (I need to check it out again and read all of the stories.) For me, this novel was almost perfect and I loved almost everything about it.

Spinning silver 2My only quibble is that a crucial scene of the story is told not from Miryem, Wanda, or Irina’s perspective, but a young boy’s. For me, reading this scene—a violent and important one—through a child’s perspective made it feel less about imagining what was happening and more about the young character’s interpretation of what was happening.

But it didn’t ruin the book at all for me. I really loved this book. I like how each of the main characters start as someone’s daughter and then find their way to being their own selves. They each have strengths that the society they live in try to squelch, and they have to figure out on their own what their strengths are and how to use them. But they do this with each other’s help, often without realizing how the other woman has helped. I also liked how the romance in the story exists but is very subtle. It reminded me, in fact, of Pride and Prejudice, with each character needing to understand something about the other person’s perspective before they could understand how they felt about each other. The world building is immaculate and intriguing, especially a little house that sits on the border between the fey lands and the human ones. And Miryem’s adventures in the Staryk castle were so fun to read.

My favorite thing was the knowledge that Wanda gains. She realizes that work is a sort of magic, a way of changing something into something else. Here in the real, non-fey world we live in, that is also true. And she is right: usually you have to do the work first before you know what you are capable of. And we are all more capable than we imagine when we start the work.

I hope the rest of my reading this year is as good as this experience.

PS: I included both the US and British cover images. The copy I read was the US cover (the first image) but I love the British cover more.

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