“Of course I was afraid. But I had learned to fear other things more: being despised, whittled down one small piece of myself at a time, smirked at and taken advantage of. I put my chin up and said, as cold as I could be in answer, “And what will you give me in return?”
Oh I lovedddd this one! It was brilliantly written, atmospheric, lush, dark, whimsical, and full of wonderful characters. It was not quite up there with Novik’s other book, Uprooted, which I adored, but it was very very good! Some spoilers below!
Spinning Silver is a wonderfully orchestrated fairy tale that is loosely based on Rumpelstiltskin. Which is so cool! It is a standalone novel, like the author’s other book, and it is superbly self-contained. The story unwinds perfectly and comes together at the end in such a satisfying way. I thought the pacing was just a little off, however, which is one of the reasons that this wasn’t a five-star read for me.
The book novel starts out great, with a slow-building and weaving story, setting it up like a classic fairy tale. Novik writes with that old-school style of storytelling that is just so magical and keeps you on the edge of your seat for more. The beginning was intriguing and mysterious and seamlessly set up the stories of not just our main character Miryem, but two other heroines as well, Wanda and Irina. I was not aware before going into the book that we would essentially have three main female protagonists, but it was a pleasant surprise for sure! They are all equally interesting, strong, and important the resolution of the story here. I am still partial to Miryem myself, because I can’t help but love a cold heroine who is not afraid to go toe to toe with a “heartless” fairy lord. Yes, I realize I am a sucker for that trope and I simply do not wish to change!
So the book sets up the story perfectly and keeps the momentum going until a little way past the halfway mark, I think. There is a section in the middle there where things kind of slow down, where there is a lot of repetitive scenes of Irina and her maid escaping into the Staryk lands, of Miryem changing silver to gold all day and night, of Wanda wondering what is going on and worrying. All of this is integral to the plot, but it did seem to drag a bit in the middle and had a bit too much filler for my liking. The ending of course, picked everything back up and was amazing and exciting and action-packed, but it also felt a tad rushed to me. I would have liked to see the ultimate showdown with Chernobog last for more than just a couple pages, too. This, while being a valid criticism in and of itself, is also made more noticeable, to me anyway, because there is little to no interaction between the characters and their chosen love interests. You get more from the relationship between Irina and the Tsar/Chernobog, Mirnatius, which I assumed to be the secondary relationship in the story. This is not a bad thing, and I actually loved seeing the two characters learn about each other and grow to appreciate/care for one another as real people. When the demon is vanquished and only the man, Mirnatius is left, you can see hints of how the love between them will begin to heal his soul. It was very beautiful and I was wholly satisfied with their ending.
However, I was not as satisfied with how the story wrapped up the Staryk King and Miryem’s story. It felt like throughout the novel there was no real interaction between the two characters, other than some fighting, bargaining, outwitting, and reluctant alliance near the end. You do see that once Miryem outsmarts the King, he holds her in a much higher regard and regrets how he treated her before. He values her and Miryem has come to “not wish him dead.” Now I love a good enemies to lovers romance, and that is what we get here, I just wish we got a little more payoff in the end. As Miryem is going back to her family, she does not even think about leaving the King for good or give him a backward glance. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, he declares that he wants to marry her for real and she realizes that’s what she wants too. Then not even a page later, they are married and we don’t even get a kiss from them! I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was beautiful and charming and tied up nicely, but it was not a satisfying payoff after all of the tension and potential of the characters and their romance. I wanted at least a kiss or some words exchanged between them dammit! Maybe a small complaint, but I feel that it does tie in with the slightly rushed ending that I felt overall.
That being said, it is still an absolutely gorgeous story and one that I will think about and adore for a long time. (It’s also on my Christmas list, so hopefully I’ll own it soon, too!) There was a beautiful theme in this book about family and heritage, as well, that I found very refreshing. Mostly seen through Wanda’s and Miryem’s perspectives, there is such an emphasis on warmth and familial love here, that greatly overshadows any romantic love in the book. I was so happy to see that the idea of a found family, adopted parents/children, and respect for mother/father figures was really focused upon here. Using the young perspective of Stepon to show how he slowly faced the traumas of an abusive father and a missing mother, and learned to love Miryem’s parents was really beautiful and heart-warming. The three heroines also find their strength, learn how to live and love, from their respective mother figures: Wanda’s mother died when she was young, but it still there to guide her and she also finds a mother’s love again with Miryem’s mom. Irina never knew her mother, but uses the gifts and knowledge passed down to her to outwith the fire demon. She also has a steady mother figure in her maid Magreta. And of course, Miryem has her own mother lending her courage and love throughout the book. I thought this emphasis on the powerful matriarchy that has shaped and guided these women was excellently done.
The other part of the family dynamic that I really loved, was how Miryem and her family were of Jewish heritage. It played a very important role in her identity and in her relationship with her entire family. There was also a good deal of antisemitism surrounding Miryem’s family that played a part in her character and her fierce bond with and protection of her family. You do not really see a lot of Jewish heroines in fantasy novels, so I really enjoyed that inclusion and representation here. Also, her cousin’s wedding seemed like the best time ever!
Overall, I really did love this book and look forward to reading more from Novik in the future! The pacing was a little of, there were times when the story got just a bit confusing/convoluted, especially with the multiple perspective changes, and I would have welcomed some more payoff with the romance, but for the most part, it was absolutely fantastic. I loved the story, I loved the characters, the atmosphere, and the writing. It is truly a beautiful book.
Happy reading, friends!