Spinning silver is a complex, beautiful and deeply magical story following three women – Miriyem, a Jewish moneylender’s daughter so successful it is said she can turn silver into gold, Wanda, a young girl fighting to protect herself and her brothers from their abusive father and Irina, daughter to a duke, branded uninteresting and all but forgotten after her mother’s death. Each is given their lot in life, and each fights to create their own future in a world very much against them.
A beautiful blend of realism and fantasy, the daily lives of these women occur alongside the mysterious Staryk road – a shining white river of a road that shifts and bends through the woods upon which ride the gold-hunting Staryk, icy and merciless as they take all they desire back to their own kingdom during the winter months. Even within well-guarded walls, Irina is not safe from the world beyond – The Tsar is young, handsome, and the son of an executed witch, and she has been placed directly in his view. The stories of Miriyem and Wanda are closely linked, with Irina’s struggles seemingly far removed and distant – until a bag of Staryk silver brings them together.
This book is stunningly written, it’s my first time reading Novik’s work and I will definitely be reading more! The Staryk, with their skin like crystallised ice and their kingdom of white and silver were so stunningly brought to life on the page. I’m quite a visual reader, if that makes any sense, I love imagery and description and world-building that really allows me to envision the characters and places I am reading about and for this Novik has an incredible talent. This is a long book (in pdf format anyway, it’s always interesting reading a book with no knowledge of how close the end is – amazon tells me it’s 480 pages) but it was so tremendous that I didn’t feel bogged down or bored at any stage. Quite the opposite, I had a busy week and I still managed to finish it in about 8 days of frantic lunchtimes of reading and wrist pain – holding up an ipad is not the same as a book. The way the stories overlap and intertwine is fantastic, and the characters were just wonderful – even the villains were complex and exciting and there were elements I simply didn’t see coming.
Seriously, when you get to the bits with Tsar Mirnatius (amazing name, I know) things get gothic and I love it.
I also really enjoyed reading about Miriyem’s culture and beliefs, and how they shape her life. It occurred to me while reading this that many fantasy novels either shy away from religion, or create their own – to read about the magic of the Staryk alongside an intelligent, likable and complex jewish protagonist was really interesting to me. Her family and the broader Jewish community faced anti semitism throughout the novel – called greedy for doing their jobs as moneylenders, attacked and shunned and mocked in the streets – but stood strongly together in the face of this discrimination. Miriyem even point-blank refuses to adhere to the demands of the Staryk king if he will not allow her to respect Shabbat and abstain from working for the duration of it despite his threats against her life.
The women in this novel – and some of the men, including Wanda’s brothers Stepon and Sergey – are placed in seemingly inescapable situations, often by their sex and social status, and each has to use every advantage they can find to stay alive. From the frozen isolation of the Staryk kingdom to the opulence and danger of the Tsar’s palace, this is a world run by the men who own and imprison them, and it is one they refuse to be defeated by.
I genuinely loved this novel, it was magical and exciting and I just didn’t know what was going to happen next. I would absolutely recommend this, and will no doubt be reading every book Naomi Novik writes for the rest of time!
Overall rating: 📖📖📖📖📖 5 books out of 5