All of the elements of a fairy tell, unfolded perfected. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik.
Naomi Novik (Nebula winner) impresses with this novel. She can write with the best of them, and I for one am glad she’s laid her claim on the fantasy genre. There is not a wasted page in this book. The prose is smooth and pulls the reader along with it.
Before I get ahead of myself, I should give a synopsis.
Miryem is the daughter of a moneylender. Her father, bless his charitable soul, is failing in his profession because his good nature prevents him from collecting debts. As a result, it is his family who sinks into poverty. Miryem, being tired of being poor and watching her mother take ill, assumes her father’s mantle and in short order establishes herself as the family breadwinner.
All the while, the story takes place next to a white forest. The winters as of late have worsened. Spring will not come. In the forest live the Staryk, a magical and reclusive fae folk who seemingly are made of ice themselves. They are known for raiding villages during the winter, killing people and stealing their gold. Not the best neighbors.
On one particular day, Miryem, on her way back to her home, brags to her mother than she can spin silver into gold. This was in fact true, figuratively, because she was using money to make more money. She makes this boast near the forest, and the Staryk King takes notice. He presents her at three different times with three amounts of silver, and asks that she turn it to gold. If she can do so, then he will take her as his bride. If not, then she gets an icy death.
To make a quick point on this story’s pacing, this description of the book touches on maybe the first 50-75 pages of the 475(ish) page book. The story moves with tidal force. Paced to perfection. This book did not have a dull moment. It keeps the reader on its heels, guessing over and over who the true antagonist will be. Different characters from different walks of life cross-over, and the plot exponentially gets better as the story advances. There was never a moment where I thought, “Get to the point!”
And I know that it’s 2019, but this book had all strong female protagonists. I love that. You don’t need to be an expert sociologist to know there are gender role issues in fairy tales. (Let me straighten my tie and step on this soapbox *clears throat*): we indoctrinate our children with fairy tales when their brains are like sponges, and it is always a man rescuing a woman, over and over. SPINNING SILVER IS THE TYPE OF STORY THAT SHOULD BE TOLD TO OUR KIDS MINUS SOME OF THE KILLING AND MILD ANTISEMITISM! I do not have daughters, but if I did, I would read them this book. It would be our new norm of what a fairy tale should look like.
The magic in this book is secondary to the message and the story, as should be the case with any compelling fantasy novel. Stated differently, this book feels very real notwithstanding the magic. For example, by making the main character Jewish in a fairy tale setting, not only is it an interesting juxtaposition, but it plays out a schema for the reader that these characters are not roundly accepted by their neighbors and community, and in fact were subject to ridicule for their beliefs (hence the mild antisemitism). It was just a creative idea that helps strike a magic vs. realism blend. It’s smart writing.
In terms of the story itself, the narrative shifts to multiple characters, and the story gets broader in scope until the fate of the entire kingdom is at stake. In addition to Miryem, there is Wanda, a strong-willed daughter of an abusive drunkard of a father, and Irina, the duke’s daughter whose political savvy and intellect guide her way through peril. Each character makes for a positive role model, and each for different reasons.
This might seem a bit crazy, but I am giving this book 100/100. A perfect score. I literally cannot think of a single criticism. It was simply awesome. I hope there is a sequel. Congratulations to Ms. Novik. Kudos. I cannot wait to read more from her.