The real story isn’t half as pretty as the one you’ve heard. The real story is, the miller’s daughter with her long golden hair wants to catch a lord, a prince, a rich man’s son, so she goes to the moneylender and borrows for a ring and a necklace and decks herself out for the festival. And she’s beautiful enough, so the lord, the prince, the rich man’s son notices her, and dances with her, and tumbles her in a quiet hayloft when the dancing is over, and afterwards he goes home and marries the rich woman his family has picked out for him. Then the miller’s despoiled daughter tells everyone that the moneylender’s in league with the devil, and the village runs him out or maybe even stones him, so at least she gets to keep the jewels for a dowry, and the blacksmith marries her before that firstborn child comes along a little early. Because that’s what the story’s really about: getting out of paying your debts.
The only other Naomi Novik book I’ve read was His Majesty's Dragon, which I . Which makes it all the more surprising how much I loved Spinning Silver.
In short, it’s a mish mash of various fairy tell retellings and Eastern European folklore into a truly fantastic world with wonderful characters.
The world feels like a cousin of late Middle Age into the 16-1700s Eastern Europe. With Tsars and Dukes and Jews and castles. But there are hints of magic right from the beginning and you’re never quite sure just how fantastic this world actually is–or if the locals are just a superstitious lot–up until the fairy king shows up, demanding gold. Then things really start to get crazy.
Characterwise, we have Miryem, daughter of the local moneylender and far better at it than her father ever was. Her ability to ‘spin silver into gold’ attracts the Staryk king (basically a winter fairy) and she’s forced to make silver and then eventually marry him–although neither seem thrilled with that particular relationship.
And more to the point, I was reasonably certain he wasn’t going to try and devour my soul. My expectations for a husband had lowered.
Tied with Miryem’s plot is Wanda, a girl from a poor family with a good head on her shoulders and a fairly terrible father, but who is determined to be a good person anyways and ends up growing together with Miryem’s family.
Then there’s Irina, the duke’s daughter and eventually the wife of the young tsar… Who of course has bound himself to a fire demon who seeks to devour everything–most especially the Staryk.
So the fairy silver brought you a monster of fire for a husband, and me a monster of ice. We should put them in a room together and let them make us both widows.
It’s a beautifully written story and world and a plot that actually kept surprising me time and again, as I expected the story to be heading for a conclusion, only for another twist to amp things up once more.
It’s interesting seeing the Jewish aspect of the story and to dig a bit into the antisemitism of the time (and all time really) and to turn the idea of Jewish moneylenders all about.
I think my main downside to the book is that every single chapter has multiple points of view and it can at times be rather difficult to figure out who’s head you’re currently in, since each is written in the first person. Some are easy, some are not. There are symbols before each section, but if those were supposed to represent the characters, either my Kindle copy messed something u or they were just too similar.
Overall though, one of the best stories I’ve read this year. Well worth the time.