[Review] Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Summary: Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders … but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty β€” until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed β€” and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.

But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it’s worth β€” especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand. 

Genre(s): YA, Fantasy, Fairy Tale Retellings
Representation: Jewish narrator + family; socioeconomic diversity
Content warnings: anti-Semitism, physical and verbal abuse, abduction, forced marriage, character death

Publisher: Del Rey
Release date:
 July 10, 2018 
Book links*: Goodreads | Book Depository | IndieBound

*These include affiliate links, which means that if you click through and buy a book I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. [Full disclaimers here.]

4 stars

January 2019 pick for Howl’s Moving Book Club.

This was amazing. I love all the different fairytale/folktale/mythology references β€” I won’t list them out because a) spoilers and b) I’d definitely miss a lot of them β€” and how Novik managed to make them all fit together seamlessly without making the story seem cluttered or overly complicated, just as she managed to make each narrator’s voice distinct even without clear chapter headings to differentiate them. (Though it’s arguable whether they’re all necessary to the plot.)

I love, love, love that our three top leads are all “strong” female characters. (We had an interesting debate about the usage of “strong” as a go-to label for female leads, but they’re very different from each other so I’m still using it, for lack of a better descriptor that applies to them all equally.) I did feel that they had unequal shares in the narrative at different points, but I think it goes to that aforementioned balance so it only bothers me slightly. I won’t get too deep into how exactly each of them takes control of their own story, because their journey is just as important as their destination and I wouldn’t want to give too much away, but it’s an incredible thing to behold.

And considering the limited cast and settings, it’s amazing how much diversity there actually is in this book. Miryem and her family are Jewish (and it’s extremely important to the narrative!), Wanda and her brothers are poor and being raised by a physically and verbally abusive single father, Irina is the daughter of a duke who has both a stepmother and a nurse as a mother figure, and the secondary/tertiary/minor characters are a mix as far as class (nobility/commoners/servants) and even race (Staryk/human/other), and the issues of bigotry, prejudice, and systemic inequality are examined throughout.

I’m realizing now that while I read a lot of fantasy/sci-fi, I lean more towards urban fantasy and historical fantasy rather than high fantasy, but yeah, in case you couldn’t tell β€” I loved this book.


32 thoughts on “[Review] Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

  1. I’m so glad you loved this, Isabelle! I agree with everything you said. β™₯ The strong heroines definitely made this book for me, and I guess it was fine with me that they had unequal narratives–in life, we aren’t all equal anyways. πŸ˜‰ And Novik did an amazing job connecting all of their stories in such a smooth way. Lovely review!

    Aimee @ Aimee, Always

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ooooo this sounds like such an interesting read, tbh I’ve noticed I’ve stepped back from fantasy recently and reading more contemporary and paranormal haha. Will definitely keep this on my mental TBR… (the TBR in my head so I can pretend my TBR isn’t gonna kill me)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It sounds like your book club had a great discussion about this book! I haven’t read anything by Novik yet, but this is totally on my TBR. Have you read other books by Novik? If so, how does this one compare?

    Interesting observation about your inclinations towards fantasy. For what it’s worth, high Fantasy just means fantasy set in a world other than this one. Is Spinning Silver set in another world? It must be with the different species…I guess I just point this out because a lot of historical fantasy is also high fantasy. What are your favorite historical fantasy books?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. we sure did! Spinning Silver is my first Novik book, but the others said that it’s pretty similar to Uprooted 😊

      yes, part of spinning silver is set in our world and part of it is set in the Staryk world. the historical fantasy I’ve read seems to be more magical realism – the only that comes to mind at the moment is Tamora Pierce πŸ˜…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I love magical realism (hence my love for The Night Circus!). Pierce’s book feel less intense when it comes to the fantastical elements, as we don’t really have many other species. But all the books are set in Tortall, which is a different world than our own. So, I’d say that’s still high fantasy. It’s all soooo complicated.

        Not that it matters much. Basically, I categorize all fantasy as either High or Low and subgenre within that. If you’re curious, I wrote a whole post about my thoughts on fantasy subgenres: http://deathbytsundoku.com/between-the-lines-identifying-fantasy-subgenres/

        Liked by 1 person

      2. oh that’s an interesting way to look at it! I think of them as more magical realism since magic is more of an aside than a focus and the rest is pretty recognizably medieval (even if the territory has a different name), but Emelan is an especially good candidate for high fantasy since it’s more magic-focused than Tortall πŸ€” but yes, I think in the end, as long as they’re good stories it doesn’t really matter what exact brand of fantasy they are 😜

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I love that she mixes all forms of mythology and folklore in her books, I read Uprooted and loved it so I need to get to Spinning Silver. I like how diverse you say it is, completely makes me want to pick it up!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Have you read Uprooted and would you say this is the better book of the two? I read Uprooted but didn’t like it… but maybe her writing has gotten better than this. I really like the sound of strong female leads and even though the cast may be limited, yay for some diversity in there πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

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