Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Review: 'Spinning Silver' by Naomi Novik

A fairy tale adaptation you say? Set in a magical cousin of \Russia? Yes of course I'd love to read this, why haven't you given it to me yet?! Spinning Silver promises a lot of good things in its blurb, but I'm happy to say that what it actually has to offer is a lot better than what is promised. Novik spins a magical web, slowly ensnaring the reader until they realise they're in too deep to get out. Thanks to Pan Macmillan and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 12/07/2018
Publisher: Pan Macmillan

WILL DARK MAGIC CLAIM THEIR HOME? 
Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s too kind-hearted to collect his debts. They face poverty, until Miryem hardens her own heart and takes up his work in their village. 
Her success creates rumours she can turn silver into gold, which attract the fairy king of winter himself. He sets her an impossible challenge – and if she fails, she’ll die. Yet if she triumphs, it may mean a fate worse than death. And in her desperate efforts to succeed, Miryem unwittingly spins a web which draws in the unhappy daughter of a lord. 
Irina’s father schemes to wed her to the tsar – he will pay any price to achieve this goal. However, the dashing tsar is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of mortals and winter alike.  
Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and Irina embark on a quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power and love. 
In this fairy tale-inspired novel, Naomi Novik weaves a rich, multi-layered tapestry that is a joy to read.
The main reason I picked up Spinning Silver is because the blurb calls it 'fairy tale-inspired'. I love new, modern takes on fairy tales that explore what is at the heart of those tales and why they are still relevant to us now. Spinning Silver does this at the very start, revealing that behind the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin there is a very different truth. And so Novik sets the reader on an early path to both mistrust what is at the surface and suspect what lies underneath. It makes for a great set up to exploring the lives of her many characters, and especially the three girls at the heart of the novel, Miryem, Irina and Wanda. And this is where I need to take a moment to complain about the blurb above for this novel. The reason I included it in the review is only to be able to complain about it now. After having read the book I feel the blurb does it a major disservice. Not only does it leave out Wanda as a major character, it misses out of providing hints at the genres the book mixes together and gives no suggestion of the richness of the book itself. So as I said in my introduction above, consider the blurb only a pale reflection of the actual book. In this review I'm going to try and avoid covering too much of the plot because I loved the surprises it offered me.

As stated, at the heart of Spinning Silver are Miryem, the daughter of Jewish moneylenders, Irina, the daughter of a duke who had hoped for more, and Wanda, the daughter of a drunk and poor farmer. Part of why I was so annoyed that the blurb gave no hint of all three is because it is by bringing together their diverse stories that Novik really caught my attention. Miryem's family is poor because her father is no good at moneylending, but one day Miryem has had enough of the sly smiles, the withheld money and the comments about their Jewish heritage, and takes over from her father. Fueled by her anger, Miryem quickly makes her family's life more comfortable. Alongside this we are told of Wanda, who lives with her two brothers and father on a barren farm, "protected" only by her mother's tree. Through Miryem Wanda is given a chance at escape, understanding and maybe even the magic of letters. As Miryem's power to "change silver into gold" becomes more well-known, she draws the eyes of a people shrouded in myth and fear, catching up Irina in the turmoil as well. Irina has lived her life in the shadows, almost content at being a disappointment to her father, until he sees a chance to make her tsarina. Her elevation brings with it strength and danger, and, like Miryem and Wanda, she has to find a way to save what she loves and come into her own. Novik takes her three main characters and highlights both the differences and similarities between them. Whether it's their difference in class and ethnicity or their shared stubborn determination and quiet love for their family, Novik's Spinning Silver shows them in a gentle but honest light and I couldn't help but become engrossed in all of them.

Novik's writing is what brings Spinning Silver to life. She translates the sparse but powerful style of fairy tales into a more luscious and rich style, without losing the clarity and honesty. I loved both her descriptions of the grand  landscape and of the small moments between family members that show their love for each other. Spinning Silver moves skilfully between being loud and being quiet, being dramatic and being intimate. It means that I found myself, reading during my lunch break at work, completely lost in her world. I looked up from my Kindle an hour later and had forgotten I was at work. For the rest of the day I had Spinning Silver in my mind and I returned to reading the moment I got home. I was surprised that certain aspects of the novel worked for me. Novik moves a lot between different narrators, and not just her three main female characters. Yet each time there is a new character speaking their narration adds another layer to the story and it didn't feel like too much. In a sense the ending also came too soon and tied up all the loose story lines almost too neatly, but I guess now I'm just really looking for something to complain about. I will definitely be keeping my eyes out for more of Novik's novels.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I adored Spinning Silver. Once I was caught there was simply no escape. Novik weaves a beautiful tale of three interlocking stories, three girls with different paths yet similar desires, all set against a beautiful, Russian fairy tale-esque background. What more could you really ask for?

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