Book Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Spinning Silver by Naomi NovikSpinning Silver is a beautiful and complex story inspired by the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin. It begins in a very ordinary way, told from the perspective of Miryem, a young Jewish girl whose father is a moneylender. He is so bad at lending money that he never presses for repayment, and consequently the whole family live in poverty. The winters are lasting longer and growing colder, the villagers are fearful of the Staryk who haunt their woods, and Miryem’s mother is becoming sick. One day Miryem decides to go out and demand payment herself, on her father’s behalf, little knowing where this simple act of courage will lead her.  

As Miryem finds new ways to increase her family’s wealth, she soon attracts attention from the Staryk, a mysterious race of powerful ice-men who travel in secrecy and silence on white roads that stretch through the forest. But it is the Staryk King who seeks her out, determined to make use of her skill for turning silver into gold. His world is one of eternal winter, of snow and ice, where everything must be exchanged for something else.

Miryem enlists the help of Wanda, a young village girl desperate to escape domestic violence and poverty, and their stories become entwined as Miryem grows in wealth and Wanda in courage. It is a bond which will help both of them when the time comes.

Far away in the Duke’s palace, his daughter Irina is unwed and uncared for, until her father decides to make the most of an opportunity, and gifts her with a ring, a necklace and a crown, all made from Staryk silver, so that she will capture the attention of the young Tsar.

There is far more magic than I can describe without breaking the spell, or revealing too much of the plot, but at the heart of this story there lies a fateful promise that the late Tsarina made to an evil spirit – a spirit of heat and fire determined to consume all that stands in its way. And together, Irina and Miryem must join forces in an attempt to defeat the evil spirit and the Staryk King, not only for their own sake, but for the sake of all who live in their world.

This is an enchanting, gripping and dramatic tale of love, courage and strength in the face of adversity. It is a story of three young women who must learn to stand up to the threat of male dominance, determined to make a way for themselves, and desperate to make choices of their own in a patriarchal society. It celebrates the simple powers of family, of working together, of giving, of self-sacrifice, and it weaves an intricate plot of magic and power that must be unwound to set everyone free.

Spinning Silver is published by Pan Macmillan.