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Spinning Silver

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fantasy (2018)
Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father's inability to collect his debts has left his family on the edge of poverty--until Miryem takes matters into her own hands. Hardening her heart, the young woman sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold.

When an ill-advised boast draws the attention of the king of the Staryk--grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh--Miryem's fate, and that of two kingdoms, will be forever altered. Set an impossible challenge by the nameless king, Miryem unwittingly spins a web that draws in a peasant girl, Wanda, and the unhappy daughter of a local lord who plots to wed his child to the dashing young tsar.

But Tsar Mirnatius is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of humans and Staryk alike. Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and her two unlikely allies embark on a desperate quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power, and love.

Channeling the vibrant heart of myth and fairy tale, Spinning Silver weaves a multilayered, magical tapestry that readers will want to return to again and again.

465 pages, Kindle Edition

First published July 10, 2018

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About the author

Naomi Novik

71 books30.4k followers
An avid reader of fantasy literature since age six, when she first made her way through The Lord of the Rings, Naomi Novik is also a history buff with a particular interest in the Napoleonic era and a fondness for the work of Patrick O’Brian and Jane Austen. She studied English literature at Brown University, and did graduate work in computer science at Columbia University before leaving to participate in the design and development of the computer game Neverwinter Nights: Shadow of Undrentide. Over the course of a brief winter sojourn spent working on the game in Edmonton, Canada (accompanied by a truly alarming coat that now lives brooding in the depths of her closet), she realized she preferred writing to programming, and on returning to New York, decided to try her hand at novels.

Naomi lives in New York City with her husband and six computers. Her website is at naominovik.com

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Profile Image for Petrik.
688 reviews46k followers
May 4, 2023
4.5/5 stars

If Uprooted is my Hell, then Spinning Silver is my Heaven.

Five years. It’s been exactly five years since I’ve read Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Honestly speaking, I never intended to read Spinning Silver. I consider Uprooted one of the worst fantasy novels I’ve read, and I had no motivation in trying out more of Novik’s works for five years. However, after hearing from many readers—one of them being my friend, Elliot Brooks—who disliked Uprooted that Spinning Silver worked wonderfully for them, my curiosity was piqued. And then, another good friend of mine—Mary—who also disliked Uprooted decided to sent me a copy of Spinning Silver. She said that Spinning Silver is one of the best standalone novels she has ever read. So here I am, nodding my head and adding my opinion to their praises; they were all 100% right. Spinning Silver is one of the best standalone novels I’ve read. This high rating you’re seeing is not a fairytale. It’s well-deserved, and Spinning Silver rightfully deserves the gorgeous cover art (US edition) illustrated by Nico Delort.

“But I had not known that I was strong enough to do any of those things until they were over and I had done them. I had to do the work first, not knowing.”

Spinning Silver is a brilliantly vivid retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s inability to collect his debts has left his family on the edge of poverty. This forces Miryem to take matters into her own hands. She hardens her heart, and she sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold. However, this reputation draws the attention of the king of the Staryk—grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh. Now Miryem has an impossible challenge ahead of her. The fate of Miryem, along with her two unlikely allies, and the two kingdoms are all intertwined; it’s up to them to stop the all-consuming threat. I am incredibly impressed with Spinning Silver. The found family trope has always been one of my favorite tropes in stories; in addition to this, Novik also made sure that the themes of poverty, wealth, and responsibility were executed magnificently. The world-building felt immersive, the characters were superbly-realized, and the prose was enchanting; I believe that Novik has successfully nailed practically everything here.

“But the world I wanted wasn't the world I lived in, and if I would do nothing until I could repair every terrible thing at once, I would do nothing forever.”

I am completely in shock by how invested I was with the main characters of Spinning Silver. This is a totally opposite reaction from the one I had from reading Uprooted. The three main heroines of the novel—Miryem, Wanda, and Irina—were unbelievably easy for me to care for. Faced with continuous danger, the three of them have to rely on their wit, strength, diligence, and determination to overcome their adversity. These are characters who genuinely care about their respective family, and they will do everything in their power to help those who matter to them. A few examples: Miryem’s merciless capability as a moneylender was done for the sake of her family, Wanda willfully and happily works HARD to pay off the debt of her abusive dad—abhorrent father figure, by the way—and feeds her brothers, and Irina’s resolve to protect Magreta—and vice versa—was so powerful. I’m probably not in the right spot to say this, but I do think Spinning Silver is the kind of “female-empowering” fantasy novel that’s utterly worth reading.

“A robber who steals a knife and cuts himself cannot cry out against the woman who kept it sharp.”

Miryem, Wanda, and Irina are indeed the three main characters of the novel; they’re the driving force of the narrative in Spinning Silver, and they’re admirable from the beginning to the end. But Novik managed to improve the quality of the novel further by—eventually—including three other main POV characters. Yes, we also have the POV chapters of Mirnatius, Stepon, and Magreta. I totally LOVE Stepon and Mirnatius’s POV chapters. Admittedly, even though I think Magreta’s chapters were well-written, I also didn’t feel it was necessary to include her chapters because they didn’t add anything important to the narrative. That’s the only reason why Spinning Silver didn’t receive a full 5 stars rating from me.

“But it was all the same choice, every time. The choice between the one death and all the little ones.”

So in total, there are six main POV characters in Spinning Silver, that’s indeed not something rare in a fantasy novel. However, there’s something uncommon about Novik’s storytelling structure here; every POV character has a first-person narration. And there’s no name indicator at the beginning of each chapter like Red Rising Saga by Pierce Brown—he used four first-person POV characters—did. This is not an easy feat to do. Doing this multiple first-person POV narrations without any name indicator means the distinction in each POV character’s voice has to be super clear, and fortunately, Novik achieved precisely that with her beautiful prose. Character’s motivations were always well-conveyed, and it was easy for me to empathize with their struggles. I absolutely loved the way these characters interacted with each other.

“There are men who are wolves inside, and want to eat up other people to fill their bellies. That it what was in your house with you, all your life. But here you are with your brothers, and you are not eaten up, and there is not a wolf inside you. You have fed each other, and you kept the wolf away. That is all we can do for each other in the world, to keep the wolf away.”

Novik’s prose was enchanting, and it was able to give the crucial distinction in each character. There were several methods employed to make sure of this, but the most effective and easily recognizable one was the way each specific character refers to someone. For example, Wanda or Stepon always call their father “Da,” we’ll know immediately it’s either the POV of Wanda or Stepon if the word “Da” appears. I know this sounds like a simple thing, but you’ll be surprised by the frequency of this being dormant in oblivion. There’s something magical about Novik’s prose, too. I’ve lived in a tropical country all my life, and sometimes, the snowy and white landscape feels like a fantasy world to me; I’ve experienced real snow once in my life, and that’s exactly how I felt. I got that feeling again from reading Spinning Silver. And do note, even though this is often categorized as a fairytale retelling, it doesn’t mean that the book lacks tension and actions. Chapter 18 and 19 were my favorite chapters of the novel, and they will prove that Novik is definitely an epic fantasy author.

Picture: The Staryk King by Donato Giancola

I chose Uprooted as the first book I finished in 2017; that ended up being a mistake. But choosing Spinning Silver as the first book of 2022? It’s the right decision to start off the new reading year. Spinning Silver is one of the most immersive and satisfying one-off standalone fantasy novels I’ve read. If you’re like me who dislike Uprooted, I highly recommend you to give this a read. I dismissed Naomi Novik’s works too soon, and I’m thankful that I gave this a read. I definitely will read more of Novik’s books, either Temeraire or Scholomance next. And if my words aren’t enough to convince you to read Spinning Silver, how about Patrick Rothfuss’s words instead?

“If I live a thousand years, I’ll never write a book as good as Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik."
—Patrick Rothfuss

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Profile Image for Melanie.
1,173 reviews98.8k followers
August 18, 2018

ARC provided by Dey Rey in exchange for an honest review.

“Bring me the winter king, and I will make you a summer queen.”

Spinning Silver is one of the best books I’ve read all year. I loved this story with every fiber of my being. And Naomi Novik is a master at storytelling and interweaving stories together. You all know that this is a very loose reimaging of Rumpelstiltskin but I’d say it’s more of an empowering tale of three girls, all on three different paths, all promised to three different men, while all being looked over by three different mothers. Three is such a constant theme in this book, too, and it really helps reinforce that this story feels like a tangible piece of magic in your hands while reading. This book is nothing short of a masterpiece.

“The real story isn’t half as pretty as the one you’ve heard.”

The Three Girls:
Wanda - a girl who has had to be strong, because it’s the only life she has ever known. Wanda has spent her short life taking care of her brothers and trying to please a father who is impossible to please. But that all changes once she is the only way to pay back his debts.
Irinushka - a girl who has been born into royalty but has never known love from her blood family. Irina is still determined to save her people, by any means necessary.
Miryem - a girl who will do whatever it takes to save her family. Miryem is strong, and relentless, and one of the very best characters I’ve ever read in my entire life. And she becomes one of the most feared moneylenders in her village, and she discovers that she awfully good at turning silver to gold. But she is not the only one that notices.

“That part of the old story turned out to be true: you have to be cruel to be a good moneylender. But I was ready to be as merciless.”

The Three Mothers:
A Passed Away Mother who continues to look after her children.
An Adoptive Mother who has unconditionally loved her child from the start.
A Birth Mother who wants nothing more than her child safe and happy.

“A robber who steals a knife and cuts himself cannot cry out against the woman who kept it sharp.”

The Three Marriages:
Filled with Hate because even in 2018 some men want to believe that they know what’s best for a woman, no matter the cost.
Filled with Fire because some people are born into a world without a chance, regardless of money, power, and privilege.
Filled with Cold because protecting the thing you love is sometimes something you’re willing to do anything for.

“...someone had climbed down and looked through our window: someone wearing strange boots with a long pointed toe.”

And these three girls, with their mothers, forced into their three marriages, all come together and create something so beautiful that I don’t even have words to express it. I will say that Miryem is for sure the main character. I will also say that we get to see a lot more points of view than these three girls and their betrothals. And the story is something that is so whimsical, so feminist, and nothing short of an honor to read.

Trigger and content warnings for hard scenes to read about loss of a parent, siblings, and death of children, for extreme parental physical abuse, brief mention of animal deaths, mention of past rape, sexual assault, alcoholism, torture, violence, murder, and use of the word Jew (not negatively, but it still didn’t feel good to read at times).

But one thing I did want to touch upon is how much Judaism plays such an integral role in this story. Miryem and her entire family are Jewish, and from the first to last page this plays a pivotal role in the story. I am not Jewish, but I still loved this inclusion so very much. Also, I’m adding “go to a Jewish wedding” onto my bucket list immediately. To my Jewish friends: please, invite me to your weddings.

Spinning Silver is such a love letter to found families everywhere, too. You guys know I love reading about found families, but all three girls in this book are the epitome of found families. Unconditional love is truly the strongest force in this universe, and not only does this book showcase that, it also celebrates that.

Overall, this just felt like a story that was single-handedly created for me. From the Staryks, to the Winter King, to the traveling between places, to the so very strong female cast, to the magic, to every single word on every single page. I swear, opening this book felt like magic and I never wanted to shut it. And I know I am being rather vague with my synopsis, but I truly believe that this book is probably best to go in not knowing much, and to just experience this otherworldly story firsthand. Without a doubt, this will make my “best of 2018” list and will forever have a place on my favorites of all-time shelf. Thank you so much, Naomi Novik, for a story I will cherish forever. And that last line will take my breath away every reread. Perfection.

“Because that’s what the story’s really about: getting out of paying your debts.”

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,993 reviews298k followers
October 1, 2021
Because that's what the story is really about: getting out of paying your debts.

There is just something about Novik's fairy tales. Something magical, atmospheric and utterly charming. I didn't like Spinning Silver quite as much as my beloved Uprooted - and I'll explain why a bit later - but it still kept me captivated from start to finish.

Spinning Silver is a loose retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. I say "loose" because you will recognise certain elements from the original - turning things into gold, the importance of names, etc. - but this is really a completely different story with different characters and many new plot lines. There's also not just one Rumpelstiltskin character, as several characters embody different aspects of the traditional imp.

I love that it's a very pastoral fairy tale with forests and country magic. The setting of the book gives it a lot of its atmosphere, and it works very well. There are parts that follow the characters through quiet daily farming activities, but there is magic and fear thrumming just under the surface.
Blue shadows stretched out over the snow, cast by a pale thin light shining somewhere behind me, and as my breath rose in quick clouds around my face, the snow crunched: some large creature, picking its way toward the sleigh.

Miryem is the daughter of the town's moneylender, but she takes over her father's job when he repeatedly fails to collect their debts. Turns out she has a talent for it and she soon finds herself turning more and more silver into gold. Unfortunately, this attracts the attention of one of the Staryk - fearsome creatures who desire gold above all else.

I found it really interesting that Novik explored the idea of a Jewish moneylender as Rumpelstiltskin. The traditional story is one where Rumpelstiltskin aids a woman in spinning straw into gold and she refuses to hold up her side of the bargain. Interestingly, it is Rumpelstiltskin who is viewed as the greedy villain. Antisemitic interpretations of the story shed a completely new light on it. Though some researchers believe the folktale predates the first records of antisemitism, many believe that more modern Rumpelstiltskins, such as the Grimm Brothers' version, were deliberately made to represent Jews.

Novik, who is herself of Lithuanian-Jewish descent, uses this to challenge the Jewish moneylender stereotype and explore the antisemitism surrounding it. It's clever, and I loved it.

In some ways, it is a smarter book than Uprooted, and yet I didn't like it quite as much because parts of this were definitely convoluted. What I've explained above is just a tiny portion of the plot. There are other supporting subplots involving a noblewoman marrying a tsar possessed by a fire demon, and a poor farm girl and her brother running away from a crime. Then there's the whole tale of the ice king and answering three questions every night.
“Thrice, mortal maiden,” in a rhyme almost like a song, “Thrice you shall turn silver to gold for me, or be changed to ice yourself.”

I counted no less than six different perspectives - honestly, I may have missed someone - and you have to learn the symbol/image for each character, as that is the only way you'll know whose point-of-view the book has moved to.

Though I appreciate books with multiple layers and complex plots, I think shedding some parts of this would have only benefited it. Some chapters lean away from complex and interesting, and toward dense and confusing.

That being said, I still recommend it if you enjoyed Novik's Uprooted. It's a fascinating, exciting fairy tale with a whole lot of atmosphere and charm. And creepy secret worlds on the other side of mirrors(!). I hope Novik writes more of these books soon.

CW: Domestic abuse (physical; non-sexual); antisemitism.

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Profile Image for Patrick.
Author 65 books233k followers
November 23, 2018
One of the best books I've read all year. Maybe THE best.

Good language. Excellent take on traditional faerie tale tropes. Brilliant storytelling. Amazing characterization.

There's nothing not to like here, honestly. And I'm going to be buying several copies as Christmas gifts for sure.
Profile Image for Yun.
521 reviews21.8k followers
June 1, 2022
Spinning Silver is a tale of hope and magic, with brave maidens and scary monsters, set against the harshest conditions in the cold and brutal winters of Lithuania. I'm not sure what I was expecting going in, but this book blew me away. It was charming and mesmerizing, sweeping me into the story right from the first page.

Nothing makes me love a book more than a strong female character, and this book has three! Our heroines are clever, courageous, and spirited. Each has been dealt a crappy hand by life and circumstances, but they don't let that get them down. Instead of waiting for a man to save them, they use ingenuity and hard work to turn their circumstances around, bettering themselves and everyone around them. You guys, I swooned!

Usually it's better to go into a book blind, but in this case, the one thing you absolutely must know is that while this story is told in first person, the actual narrator switches between different people (and it's not marked in the book). Just be aware of that, and it's easy to catch on to the change. I'm not sure why Novik chose to leave the narrators unmarked, but that can easily cause a lot of confusion if you're caught unawares.

The narration follows the different characters seamlessly, and their stories interweave into a cohesive whole. For a book with so many characters and so much happening, I found the story to be fairly easy to follow. The one exception is that some of the dialog and explanations around the two "monsters" are a little vague, but that may have been on purpose. Just like if you examine a fairy tale too closely, it starts to fall apart, but from a little distance, it remains charming and wholly believable. And this story should be taken in that vein, like a fairy tale given the benefit of doubt so that you can maximally enjoy its allure and magic without getting bogged down in the whys.

This was such a fun and exhilarating read for me. I adored the story and loved the strong female characters. All throughout, I felt swept along in the magic of the journey. Honestly, I couldn't ask for more than that.

See also, my thoughts on:

Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,119 reviews44.8k followers
May 2, 2020
This novel is pure escapism; it is enchanting, mystical and, most importantly, it's a fantastic piece of writing. I loved it. Go read it!

I’m a critic but I found nothing to critique here. And for me that says a lot. I often find it hard just to sit back and enjoy a story without pulling it apart and dissecting all the elements of the book. It’s just want happens when you’re and English student. You consider the characters, the themes and everything the writing is trying to convey. With this, however, I was taken away by the majestic nature of the fairy-tale plot. It all just fitted together so perfectly and slid into an ending that left me feeling warm inside.

The novel is an amalgamation of fairy tales, all distinctively eastern European in feel, though they are fleshed out and twisted into something resembling a complex and compelling story that is not limited by the standard tropes fairy tales demand. This is not a novel about love; it is one about survival in a cut-throat world where the rich and powerful exploit the poor, weak and helpless. The peasants starve in the winter as their lands are raided by the mystical Staryk whilst their Tsar hordes the entire kingdom’s wealth and basks in his own splendour. He does little to help his own people.

As such, people have to learn to survive and defend themselves in an unjust world. There are no heroes, only people who are willing to be brave in the face of tyranny. And tyranny can come in many forms, and often those who are supposed to love and protect us become the worse of the lot. Daughters learn to overthrow their fathers and make their own paths in the world. Miryem learns to turn silver into gold by taking up her father’s money lending business, and eventually what appears to be a natural aptitude for business develops into a fully-fledged magical ability that captures the attention of an Ice King.

From here the plot only improves. There are a multitude of characters and point of views though they are all linked and brought together into such a powerful ending. As Miryem is taken back to the Staryk kingdom, the Tsar daemon of rage and fire seeks to melt the lands of always winter. Two conflicting powers come crashing together, as the veil is lifted revealing the truth of a character shrouded in misunderstanding and ice. Just because a people operate in a different way, it does not make them inherently evil.

Spinning Silver is so much better than Uprooted because it is consistent; it sticks with the same themes and develops them until the very end of the story rather than shifting into a radical new plot line half-way through the story. As such the magic begins on the very first page and stays until the very last- I highly recommend it!


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Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
December 30, 2020
2020 reread for my IRL book club. We had an excellent discussion and I have a pretty good Powerpoint on this book that I made for our book club meeting if anyone ever needs it, lol. And I still think this book is marvelous.

All the stars!! One of my favorite fantasies ever ... I think it's officially part of my desert island collection. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:

It’s not often that I end a novel in awe of characters, the world-building, and the depth and complexity of the themes, while still being absolutely delighted with the storytelling. In Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik does all that and more.

In medieval Lithvas (according to Novik, a fantasy version of Lithuania with a little Russia and Poland blended in), Miryem Mandelstam is the daughter of a Jewish moneylender in a small town. Panov Mandelstam is a gentle, kindhearted man: too kind to be a successful moneylender, in fact, since he’s constitutionally unable to demand repayment of the money he’s lent out, leaving him and his wife and daughter destitute. When her mother falls ill, Miryam has had enough. A bit of winter has found its way into her heart, and that combined with her stubbornness (and her threats to involve her wealthy grandfather and the law if the villagers don’t repay her what they owe) makes her a success at her new job as village moneylender.

Miryem takes on a strong village girl, Wanda, as a household servant, letting her work off her father’s debt. Miryam doesn’t realize it, but Wanda is actually grateful for the chance to avoid her abusive father, and to stealthily put away the extra money that Miryam pays her. Miryam’s parents are alarmed at the increased iciness in her heart, but she has no intention of handing the moneylending job back to her ineffective father. Miryam rather defiantly tells her mother that she shouldn’t be sorry that her daughter has the ability to change silver into gold.


However, there’s a magical road that appears and disappears in Lithvas during the winter, controlled by the fae-like Staryk, and other ears have heard Miryam’s boast to her mother during her journey back to their village. Soon she finds herself entangled in the Staryk king’s demands to change his silver into gold. Miryam comes up with a brilliant plan, but meeting the Staryk king’s demands may be almost as bad as failure.

(I get a Thranduil vibe from the Staryk king, except ... needs more ice)

Spinning Silver begins with these allusions to the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale, but Novik is weaving far more into her story than this one tale. Miryam’s plan involves the ambitious duke of Vysnia and his daughter Irina, who is thought too plain to attract the handsome young tsar of Lithvas, Mirnatius. The Staryk silver may tip the balance for Irina, but she soon finds that gaining Mirnatius’s attention is a highly dangerous thing indeed. Irina’s story quickly becomes as compelling as Miryam’s, as she needs to use all her wits and some gifts of her heritage to escape with her life and soul intact.

Novik’s unique moneylender twist on the story of Rumpelstiltskin is highly creative. Eastern European folklore is woven in as well. The (literally) icy Staryk king and his winter kingdom called to mind Morozko, the Russian frost-king, and I had an appreciative shudder of recognition when a certain fiery demon is named.

(hat tip to Marvel for the Surtur image)

Novik takes her story far beyond a retelling or recasting of old tales, though. I particularly enjoyed the fascinating concepts dealing with cold Staryk silver and the warm gold from the “sunlit world.” It played into the plot in a way that I hadn’t anticipated.

The sensitive, meaningful way in which the Jewish faith and culture were incorporated into Spinning Silver was lovely. Antisemitism is addressed, but doesn’t weigh down the story. The focus is more on personal connections, like the love between Irina and her old nurse, the understanding and respect that Miryam gains for the Staryk people, and the family bonds that develop between the Mandelstams and Wanda and her brothers.

Without tipping over into unrealistic anachronism, we also see women characters who are empowered by the actions they take to save themselves, as well as others they care about, in spite of the fact that each of them ― against their desires ― is promised, given, or simply taken in marriage. It’s a fairly subtle connection between our three main characters.

Spinning Silver is an enchanting fantasy, woven of fire and ice, sunlit gold and Staryk silver, icy faerie winter and Lithvas spring. Naomi Novik has crafted a truly wondrous novel.

ETA: If you really hate the two marriages , I was alerted to the original novelette version that Novik turned into this novel. It only focuses on Miryam's initial story but goes in quite a different direction. You can find it in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year #11, which I picked up on Kindle for just 99c.

Initial posts: The author of Uprooted strikes again, with what appears to be a take-off on Rumpelstiltskin. Can't wait for July!!

ETA: I'm dying here. I didn't get the ARC (the publicist was unmoved by my sad email) and my local library, which I thought would jump right on this one, still doesn't have it in their catalog. I HAVE BROKEN DOWN AND BOUGHT THE DANG BOOK. In hardback, no less. Stay posted!
Profile Image for Hannah Greendale.
701 reviews3,355 followers
August 18, 2023
Novik introduces three daring female protagonists in this clever re-imagining of Rumpelstiltskin. Here is a realm of magic and mysticism, of cruelty and heartbreak, fringed with glittering ice and populated with creatures carved from the wildest corners of the imagination. The initial chapters titillate with high stakes, compelling characters, and enchanting descriptions of warm food and a forest cloaked in snow, but the narrative is soon bogged down by several ruinous flaws.

Despite encountering wondrous and unexpected forms of magic, Novik's characters are neither astonished nor surprised. Their flat response evokes a perpetual sense of apathy, a problem that's exacerbated by glacial pacing, further compounded by two of the female protagonists having such similar plot lines as to feel redundant.

The final nail in the coffin - or icicle in the heart - is the inclusion of multiple POVs. Novik opens with two primary voices, but more characters are introduced as the story progresses. A change in POV is indicated by an icon of a spinning wheel, but the speaker is not identified and new character voices are dropped without preamble. Not only does this create extra work and confusion, Novik elects to recount scenes from varied perspectives, resulting in even more redundancy.

Spinning Silver holds all the ingredients of a magic spell, but the execution leaves one cold and unsatisfied.
Profile Image for Anne.
4,060 reviews69.5k followers
October 19, 2021
Ok. This is a retelling of Rumplestiltskin...but not.
What I mean is, Novik really took the idea of spinning straw to gold and the importance of a name, and just made that shit her own new story.
*tips hat*


So, in this fairytale Eastern Europeanish setting, there's this spunky little Jewish girl named Miryem that kicks ass and takes names. She ends up with not only all the normal problems an ambitious female minority would have, but also the extra (and quite HUGE) problem of doing impossible things to keep the assy king of the (scary as hell) winter fairies (called Staryk) that live in the woods from doing scary as hell stuff to her. <--kinda?
But Miryem is not one to be cowed by some bitchy fairy king.


Then you've got Irina. A dumpy duke's daughter whose father uses some shady means (and a pinch of Staryk silver) to get the (creepy as fuck) tsar to marry her. She soon finds out that her not so beloved has a teeny little secret that just might get her eaten alive by more than just his court of petty nobles. Apparently, making a deal with a demon can backfire on you. <--who knew?
But Irina is tougher than she looks.


And then there's Wanda. This poor kid is just trying to survive her abusive home life when she gets pulled into the story by Miryem. Who, by the way, is only using her to collect a debt from her father. <--in case you were under the impression that our girl was a sweetheart.
And maybe at first Wanda is just hanging on for dear life, but somewhere along the way she finds her voice.


And then there's the rest of this enormous cast of characters...
The POV changes in this thing are unreal. I lost track of how many voices there eventually were, to be honest. The pacing wasn't exactly breakneck, but in my opinion, the story was worth plodding through some of the more meandering parts. But if you're not a fan of books that you have to chew and chew and chew?


Well, you've been warned.
This was a thick-ass book and the length took me by surprise in the way that only an e-book can. You know what I mean? When you go in and grab a physical copy of something, and then your arm comes out of socket when you try to lift it up...you know what you're getting yourself into. But when you download a book? There's that moment when you realize that you've been reading for an hour and you're only 4% done with the thing. Always fun...
Normally, I'm not a fan of stuff that doesn't hop along at a good clip, but Novak just turns my crank when it comes to storytelling, so she can get away with these wonky-ass long stories.
Profile Image for Hamad.
1,048 reviews1,382 followers
January 20, 2019
This review and other non-spoilery reviews can be found @The Book Prescription

Update: After finishing Uprooted, I know that Naomi's style is just not for me!!

DNF @25%

I was so excited for this book because I wanted to read a book by Naomi for so long now. Uprooted is one of the oldest books in my TBR. I didn't know the tale of Rumpelstiltskin so I read it before this out in preparation for this. Then I saw that this was a big book and I didn't know how the author is going to retell such a short story in all those pages.

I started this and was a bit confused by the continuous change in POV, I wish that it was written in 3rd Person because it would have been better. The story started kind of interesting but it was so slow. This is a loose retelling but I could see what she was trying to achieve. And the retelling of the original series almost finished at the point I DNF at. So I don't know what the rest of the book is about.

I lost interest in the story and so went to the reviews to see if others had the same opinions as me but No, I was the only one! I found some 3 and 3.5 stars reviews but no 2 stars, no DNFs so I decided to read a bit more but nothing much happened.

I am going to give this another chance after I read Uprooted, although I usually don't give 2nd chances. If uprooted is good then I know I wasn't in the mood or sth like that but if I didn't like Uprooted then maybe Naomi's style just isn't for me!
Profile Image for Jesse (JesseTheReader).
468 reviews176k followers
February 7, 2023
This was an enchanting ride from beginning to end! I loved all the characters and the strength they showcased throughout the novel as they continued facing unfortunate trials. My only complaint was the flow between povs as sometimes the switching between them felt abrupt. There were also a few moments where the story slowed down in terms of pacing and it took awhile for things to pick up.
Profile Image for ✨ Helena ✨.
382 reviews1,007 followers
March 28, 2019
“I am not your subject or your servant, and if you want a cowering mouse for a wife, go find someone else who can turn silver to gold for you.” 


This was a buddy read with my elvish friend, Maica! I’m so glad that we decided to read this together! <3

Confession Time: I was a bit scared going into this because I loved Uprooted so bloody much. And how on Earth could Naomi Novik possibly improve upon that pure and utter perfection, which included wizards, royals, tree people, and all sorts of other fun characters? Well, somehow, unbeknownst to me, Novik managed to do just that! Now this is a faery tale retelling. Naomi Novik might have just shoved Rosamund Hodge to the side as my favourite author, in regards to retellings!!!

Now before I get into this novel, as someone who was raised as inter-faith (half-Anglican, half-Jewish), I absolutely adored the Jewish representation in this novel!!! Do you know how rare it is, aside from World War Two or Holocaust novels? With the exception of Simon Lewis from The Mortal Instruments, I can’t even remember the last time that I came across a Jewish minor-character in a series, much less having it be a fundamental part of the story!!! From Shabbat to weddings to prayers, I loved the inclusion of Jewish culture!

However, having said that, I would like to point out that there is quite a bit of antisemitism in this novel, as well…So, fair warning, if that’s something that you don’t want to read about.

Spinning Silver is an exquisite and atmospheric, pastoral wintery tale told from the perspectives of not one, not two, but three female protagonists, in addition to a few others along the way. But not to worry, each perspective has a very distinctive voice, and I found it very easy to differentiate between them. I also found that the slow pacing of this novel definitely added to its charm, as you begin to anticipate the various storylines finally coming together.

Miryem is a young Jewish woman whose father is a rather poor moneylender. He is far too generous, by not demanding borrowers to repay their debts, which is not conducive to putting food on the table. Thus, she takes up his occupation in order to save her family from cold and starvation. She is very smart and shrewd, and is more than happy to strike a good bargain!

Wanda is a beautiful girl who comes from an abusive family because her father is a gambling drunkard, who does not contribute to the household at all. He treats his children more like hired help than young adolescents. She eventually finds a positon in Miryem’s household, in order to pay off her father’s debts. She also has two younger brothers, Sergey and Stepon, to feed and support, as well. She is a very strong and responsible older sister.

Irina is the unattractive daughter of a Duke. Since her mother was a descendant of the Staryk (elf/fae-type creature) and because her dowry was magical, Staryk silver, she was able to be married off to the reluctant tsar, Mirnatius. She was very caring towards others and thought quite carefully when making very difficult decisions. She is a rather wonderful tsarina, who inspired loyalty in others.

As was the case with Uprooted (a loose Beauty and the Beast retelling), this is not a strict Rumpelstiltskin retelling either. In fact, I found references to various other faery tales and mythologies, which was very exciting, considering that my knowledge of Slavic folklore is virtually non-existent. It takes place in a setting comparable to Lithuania, with an unexplained magic system, as is the case with most faery tales. Explaining everything would ruin the spell that this novel shall cast on you! ;)

However, if I were being honest, my absolute favourite part of this novel was the family dynamics. There was so much emphasis put on a familial bond. It was so lovely to read about because oftentimes, I’ve found that as stories progress, family members tend to mysteriously disappear or are never actually involved. Neither of which occurs here.

I absolutely loved Spinning Silver and I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys faery tale retellings, especially ones such as Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale. Naomi Novik is such an imaginative writer, with such a whimsical writing style that I would hate for you to miss it! …Although for the life of me, I can’t understand why it was released in July! :D
Profile Image for Jessica ❁ ➳ Silverbow ➳ ❁ .
1,261 reviews8,753 followers
April 4, 2018
4.5 stars

I’m. Just. SO. Happy.


This is completely different from UPROOTED. Kind of. It’s still a fairytale-like story, but it’s wholly unrelated to the Dragon and Agnieszka. There are no awesome tree people. There’s no wooden Kasia or royal orphans or upstart wizards.

There are awesome some-other-kind-of-people who may or may not be wintery in origin. And a not-so-awesome demon. And not one, not two, but THREE new heroines, all hampered by expectations, all saying, EFF that, RAWRRR.


Full RTC.
Profile Image for destiny ♡ howling libraries.
1,743 reviews5,283 followers
April 21, 2022
I’ve had Naomi Novik’s work on my reading list for a long time, but this was my first time picking up anything by her. I loved the Rumpelstiltskin story as a child, so when I heard that she was writing a retelling of it, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy—and now, it made me wonder how I ever lived without the incredible worlds of magic and fantasy she crafts.

I wasn’t sorry they didn’t like me, I wasn’t sorry I had been hard to them. I was glad, fiercely glad.

The story alternates perspectives, primarily between the women in the story, with its focus resting mainly on Miryem (the tax collector’s daughter), Wanda (Miryem’s hired help), and Irina (the local duke’s daughter). Gradually, we also see perspectives from the tsar, Wanda’s youngest sibling, and Irina’s nursemaid, and while the shifts in narrators offer potential for chaos and disjointed storytelling, Naomi Novik shows off every bit of the necessary skill to make it work.

They would have devoured my family and picked their teeth with the bones, and never been sorry at all. Better to be turned to ice by the Staryk, who didn’t pretend to be a neighbor.

Miryem is by far my favorite character in this story: she is cold, clever, and ruthless when she needs to be, but never without justification, and never unfairly. Her perspective is not only the one I enjoyed the most for entertainment’s sake (especially when she interacts with the winter feyfolk, the Staryk), but also for the empowerment her narrative offers. Miryem’s family is Jewish, and there’s a lot of commentary made throughout the story to remind the reader of the pains Jews have been through and the judgments they have faced, and continue to face, in their daily lives.

“My people will go into the flame with their names locked fast in their hearts; you will not have that of them, nor me.”

More than anything, though, I think Spinning Silver is a story of feminism and independent, strong-willed women. Each of our three most important narrators suffer under a man who has, intentionally or otherwise, controlled and/or ruined their life: for Miryem, it’s the lazy father who forced them into starvation; for Wanda, it’s the abusive, drunkard father who wants to sell her off for spirits; and for Irina, it’s the controlling, uncaring father and the terrifying man he wants to marry her off to. Despite their respective circumstances, these young women all learn how to work together and to fight their way out of one mess after another.

But it was the same choice, every time. The choice between the one death and all the little ones.

Beyond the representation and strength, Spinning Silver is just a damn good fantasy tale. It mimics the Rumpelstiltskin story just enough to draw in old fans, but Novik’s writing takes liberties endlessly to make it her very own story. The writing voice in and of itself is magnificent; I found myself highlighting so many passages just because the phrasing she uses and the scenery she paints gave me chills. This is also one of the most atmospheric wintry stories I’ve ever read in my life.

“A power claimed and challenged and thrice carried out is true; the proving makes it so.”

If I haven’t convinced you yet, I’ll also tell you that there’s a delightful enemies-to-lovers twist (you’ll have to read it to find out which girl it involves, though, because I’m not telling!), sweet families and sibling bonding moments for days, and so much tension that I’m positive you won’t want to put it down until you’ve found out how it all ends.

Because that’s what the story’s really about: getting out of paying your debts.

Trigger warnings for anti-Semitism, sexism, parental abuse, family death, and alcoholism.

Thank you so much to Del Rey for providing me with this beautiful finished copy in exchange for an honest review!
Profile Image for Julie .
4,078 reviews59k followers
March 27, 2019
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik is a 2018 Del Rey publication.

I need more stories like this one in my life!

I rarely grab a fantasy novel, although, I am often tempted by them. I respect the genre immensely because of the thoughtfulness and work required for world building and the huge imaginations of fantasy writers. However, no matter how badly I might want to dive into a high fantasy, I always manage to talk myself out of it. My first excuse usually has to with the heft of the book, and the sheer concentration required on my part, as fantasy usually requires a bit more of my undivided attention. With so many books I need to read, taking time out for an epic fantasy feels like a daunting endeavor.

However, this book kept popping up on my Goodreads feed, and it happens to be a stand- alone, not a part of an ongoing epic saga, AND it is marketed as a re-telling of the classic Grimm fairy-tale, Rumpelstiltskin, which was one of my favorite stories as a child, a story own children enjoyed too, plus it comes in at just under five hundred pages, which is doable.
The bare bones set up is something like this:

Miryem Mandelstam’s father is a Jewish money-lender, but he’s not very good at his job. He lends money easily enough, but usually fails to collect when the payments are due, which has put his family in serious financial straits. So, Miryem takes over for her father, with far better results. She then hires, Wanda, whose abusive father owes her money, to work off his debt by being her assistant.

Miryem’s success attracts the attention of the ‘Staryk’, fairies, who thrive only in the frigid cold winter. From here, Miryem gets caught in a vicious cycle, as The Winter King forces her to continue turning silver into gold.

Meanwhile, Irina, a plain lady in waiting, from the same city as Miryem’s wealthy maternal grandparents, becomes attractive to everyone around her, with the help of a magical Fae crown. This development helps her father convince the Tsar to marry her. However, the Tsar is rumored to have delved into the black arts and his soul is demon possessed.

First, let me address the Rumpelstiltskin parallels. Yes, there are obvious references to the class fable, however, in my humble opinion, the book goes far beyond a re-telling. In fact, the story seems to also borrow from several other folk legends, as well.

There is a lot going on with the three featured women in the story, all of whom face different challenges and meet those challenges with bravery and cunning. While the fairy-tale has gotten a lot of bad press in recent years, I have never wavered from believing they served a greater purpose. Okay- sure there is a usually a happy ending, (God forbid!) but, there is more dark reality in these tales of folklore than meets the eye, and they nearly always come with a built- in lesson of morality. This story also comes replete with tons of allegory and symbolism, the most notable being that of antisemitism.

The story is absolutely mesmerizing, so rich in detail, and imagery, with layers upon layers of thought -provoking situations, in which our characters face evil, greed, and life or death situations.

The one downfall is that the book is often poorly structured, with breakneck shifts in narratives, which took me out of the story, forcing me to slow down and re-read segments to be sure I was staying up with who was doing or saying what. I really dislike this type of issue in any book I read, but it is especially annoying when it occurs in a genre where large casts of characters are prevalent and so much important dialogue and activity is in play. The momentum, which is not really designed to move at a brisk pace, still suffered, as a result of this rather unorthodox setup. Once I knew what to expect, however, I was prepared for the sudden shifts and eventually adjusted to the jarring style.

Other than that, reading this book was an incredible experience. I loved the way the story paid homage to the types of fairytales I loved, putting a fresh spin on favorite tropes, featuring three strong female leads, and still managed to incorporate faith and religion into the tale, in a new and refreshing way, giving the reader something substantial to digest.

This is my first book by this author, and I feel I may be showing up a little late to the party. But, after losing myself in this gem of a story, I’m inspired to read more of Novik's work. Not only that, immersing myself in this story helped to stave off a rapidly building burnout phase.

It’s time to slow down the conveyor belt on ARC’s and the pressure of deadlines and blog posts, and social media and all the rest, and escape into an epic fantasy tome more often. I need to enjoy more books I’ve been missing out on, more classics, more vintage books, and more reading simply for the pleasure of reading.

Here’s to more world building, to more fantasy and epic sagas, and to taking a long overdue vacation!!
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.6k followers
October 30, 2019
the only thing that has been spun is my never ending boredom.

while the silver strands were loosely woven in the beginning and partially spooled by a few enchantingly charming chapters, my attention eventually tangled and frayed away.

as with uprooted, this unraveling of enjoyment is most likely my fault and not the storys. because again, this is actually quite a beautiful fantasy concept and a remarkably unique retelling of a classic story. but i just couldnt get into it, the writing, the characters, the romances, or anything else.

its been soooo long since i have found an author that i just dont click with and im really at a loss as to why. on paper, both spinning silver and uprooted should have been a wonderful reading experiences - they have everything i love in classic fantasy stories - but they both met the same unfortunate fate of my dying interest.

sorry naomi novik - its not you, it me.

2.5 stars
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,096 reviews17.7k followers
January 5, 2022
But the world I wanted wasn't the world I lived in, and if I would do nothing until I could repair every terrible thing at once, I would do nothing forever.

Spinning Silver is a masterful tapestry of interwoven stories. Containing some of the best lady protagonists of recent fantasy literature, a fantastic narrative around cultural Jewishness, and such diverse fairy tales inspirations as Rumplestiltskin, Hansel & Gretel, A Thousand And One Arabian Nights, and Hades & Persephone, this book was an absolute masterpiece and one of my faves of the year.

This book takes in place via an impressive six points of view:
→Miryem Mandelstam – a moneylender’s daughter who takes over the job from her father. Determined, somewhat ambitious, fiercely loving towards her family, and honestly one of the most iconic characters ever.
→Wanda Vitkus – the eldest sister of her family, fiercely protective of her brothers Sergey and Stepon. Her friendship with Miryem made me so emo.
→Irina – the daughter of a minor lord, occasionally manipulative, trying to save herself and find freedom from her father all in one.
→Stepon Vitkus – the youngest Vitkus, naive but loving.
→Margreta – Irina’s caretaker, deeply caring and quietly strong.
→The Starek King – definition of an ambiguous character.
→Prince Mirnatius – possibly possessed, definitely ambiguous.

Oh, god, so what do I say about this novel. This is a hard one to talk about because every story is so tightly and cleverly woven . The initial slow buildup of characters first struck me as a bit overlong, but over the course of the novel I came to appreciate how well built it all is. Every payoff of this novel feels so excellently payed off. Foreshadowing comes to perfect fruition; plot twists make you gasp at how obvious they seem in hindsight. It’s a tightly wound 450 pages that kept me on the edge of my seat, even when the plot itself slowed down.

The other aspect, of course, is the meta-narrative around identity.
But it was all the same choice, every time. The choice between the one death and all the little ones.

Judaism, historically, was often seen as something devilish, a religion of moneylenders who cheat others of their money. Historically, Jewish people were really only moneylenders because 1) many Christian sects felt it went against their religion and because 2) they often quite literally were not allowed into other trades: you can read more about this here.
This book uses Jewish identity as a positive identity, an identity belonging to the outsider and yet a positive one nonetheless. It is through identity, both within the context of society and as people, that these characters must find strength.

And the thing is, women in this book do fall in love and care for male characters. But the narrative always puts their agency, growth and development first. Miryem, Wanda, and Irina all exist on their own, independent of men, even in points where men attempt to steal their story. Spinning Silver is, in itself, a meta-narrative about storytelling, about the distances we go to change the stories of others. Rumpelstiltskin is a bastardized tale meant to villainize Jewish people; some fairy tales we hear at night don't get it right.

It is here that I will go into a brief spoiler section and discuss three elements of this book that I want to talk about but don't want to spoil y'all for.
on jewish identity as a positive gift:
on a really well-planted twist:
on the two romances-sort-of:
on my shrine to the final line:

I also want to take a second to comment on the audiobook performance being excellent. I read the last 100 pages of this in physical copy because my loan was due back. But the way the audiobook narrator dropped her voice for Wanda and raised it for Stepon... academy award, literally. You could tell the difference in narrators so fucking fast.

I don’t want to say a lot more about this book besides that I think you should read it if you like character development, strong women, calling out antisemitism within narrative, subversive retellings of old narratives, and several really excellent plot reveals. I closed this book feeling a sense of satisfaction I doubt will be matched by any other book I read this year.

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Profile Image for Angelica.
814 reviews1,154 followers
March 27, 2021
Ok, so I’m officially impressed?

I was feeling a bit wary about picking this book up when I first heard about it. I head read Naomi Novik’s other book, Uprooted, a book that had was nominated for both the Nebula and Hugo awards for best fantasy, and even won the Nebula. And you know what? I hated it.

So, as you can imagine, I wasn’t too sure about this one. Then on a whim, I got it as my Book of the Month, and I decided to read it. Now, all I have to say is that Naomi Novik has found herself a new fan in me.

This book is magical. Truly, incredibly magical. From the world to characters, to the writing itself. Once I got into the story I couldn’t put it down. I actually read up until like three in the morning to read it.

I’m not going to say much about the story because I want to spoil anything. But, know that the story follows three young women, Miryem, the daughter of a Jewish moneylender, Irinia, the daughter of a duke, and Wanda, the daughter of the town drunk. Of all of these, it is clear that Miryem’s story is at the center of this epic tale as it all begins and ends with her. Aside from these three, there are other small POV changes from supporting charcters that allow us to see the full scope of the tale.

Throughout out the novel the three girls, all who had begun as seemingly weak and oppressed in some way or another, managed to shine and show the world just how much strength lay within them. I loved seeing them develop and grow into the power and opportunities they had each been given. I also love how they used their wit and determination to outsmart their oppressors and come out on top.

My one complaint with this is that the POV changes were pretty random and were never announced. There would be a line break and suddenly, there would be a new person speaking from another part of the land and I would have no idea what was happening for a moment.

Thankfully, it would only take me a paragraph or two before I realized whose POV I was in. If anything, I think that shows off Naomi Novik’s writing ability that I could so easily recognize which character was narrating the story. There was the depth to each of the characters. Even the ones who seemed most remote and cruel had so much passion in their souls. So much personality brimming through the pages.

And the writing!!!

The writing was beautiful and atmospheric. Novik describes the winter in such beautiful ways, both as a thing of beauty and one of cruelty, sometimes as both. I wish I would have read this in the winter instead of the middle of summer because this would make the perfect winter read.

Other parts I loved about the story was the inclusion of Judaism as such a large part and Miryem’s life. We rarely ever see a real religion in fantasy, and rarely are charcters so faithful to it without coming across as fanatic or portrayed in a negative light. And even more rarely is the religion mentioned Judaism. So, I highly appreciated how Miryem stayed true to her faith, even until the end.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. If you like fantasy, or retellings, or good books in general, I would tell you to add this one to your TBR.

Seriously though, this book was amazing. Go read it!

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Profile Image for Viburnum (hiatus).
22 reviews237 followers
September 14, 2023
Rich and resplendently written. Novik has the golden touch.

Spinning Silver was vividly evocative—an artful rendering of snow swirling ghostlike against slate-smeared skies, of crimson flames licking hungrily at the winter air. And there was something about it that was so irresistibly beguiling, thawing my cynical adult heart.
I admired Miryem, Wanda and Irina—all of whom, despite the burden of their circumstance, rose up and raised their heads high, undaunted and unafraid. I admired their strength and determination, the fierceness of their resolve to protect the people important to them. And in the end, each of them created more from the little that'd been afforded to them, weaving the threads of their life into something that was rich, beautiful and full of meaning.

And it would have been perfect, if not for the choppy pacing and paragraphs upon paragraphs of utterly useless scene-setting. While I am all for descriptive writing, I'd prefer to do without the overly mundane detail, please. And asides from doing nothing, the descriptions did sap the plot of its momentum and me of my patience.

And yet, be that as it may, I did love this novel. Loved it for its colourful characters and quaint, picturesque settings, for its wholly atmospheric writing and downright compelling fairytale charm.

December 16, 2021

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I loved SPINNING SILVER. And it's funny, because I only felt lukewarm about her previous book, UPROOTED. Don't get me wrong - UPROOTED wasn't a bad book, and I still occasionally have nightmares about heart-trees, but it didn't wow me the way I expected it to based on all the preliminary reviews, either.

SPINNING SILVER reads like Naomi Novik saw my review for UPROOTED, said to herself, "Aha," and then set about to write a story that personally addressed each and every one of my complaints. UPROOTED was slow to start; SPINNING SILVER grabbed me from the beginning and wouldn't let go. UPROOTED had a very dull heroine who ends up in a very dull love story. SPINNING SILVER has a huge cast, mostly of strong female characters, and the main love story is unconventional and fraught with tension (and doesn't really come to fruition until the end). UPROOTED has a fairy-tale vibe without any clear parallels, whereas SPINNING SILVER very obviously borrows elements from The Glass Mountain, The Snow Queen, and, of course, Rumpelstiltskin. In short, SPINNING SILVER is amazing.

It's difficult to describe the story because there is so much going on, in terms of plot and in terms of the large cast of characters. The main character is really a girl named Miryem, the daughter of a Jewish moneylender who ends up taking up his mantle when he proves too soft-hearted to carry out his work. Actually, that's another thing - I loved how Novik incorporated Jewish culture into this fairytale retelling, especially since the Grimm tales really aren't so kind to Jews. One need only look at the tale, Jew Among the Thorns, to see the rampant antisemitism. So it was great to see the greedy money-lender stereotype turned on its head, as Miryem is portrayed as fierce and capable and willing to do anything to see her family through the cold and cruel winters.

Her ability to turn a profit makes her an enemy of most people in her village, except for a girl named Wanda who Miryem's family ends up taking in as a servant to pay off her father's debt. Wanda is the daughter of an abusive alcoholic and initially, while she sees her job only as a respite from beatings and a means of getting food into her mouth, she starts to truly love Miryem's family and appreciate Miryem's strength. Wanda has two brothers named Sergey and Stepon, who also have POVs later on in the story. They are just as abused and desperate as Wanda, but have cores of strength, as well.

Then there's the daughter of a duke named Irina, whose father buys fairy silver from Miryem, when her money-making abilities catch the eye of the local fairies, the Staryk, who only live in the cold. He uses the silver jewelry as part of his daughter's trousseau, and the magical jewelry enchants anyone who looks upon it into thinking that Irina, who also has fairy blood, is beautiful. She is married as a result to a local tsar she has known since childhood, a powerful man of fire who is possessed by a demon. He wants to devour Irina, to steal her magic, unless she can offer him something better.

One of the things I loved about SPINNING SILVER is the interconnectedness and the focus on relationships. All the disparate storylines connect, sometimes in surprising ways, and it was so satisfying as a reader to see everything neatly come together. I also really appreciated how fleshed-out each character was, even the villains (who aren't as villainous as they initially appear), and how much time Novik seemed to have spent developing each character to be their own person. The ways that they interact with one another are so nuanced, platonic and romantic relationships both handled just as lovingly (which isn't always the case). And all the women characters are so strong.

It isn't often that I find a book that is basically perfect, which is why I tend to be somewhat stingy with my five-star ratings. But SPINNING SILVER is that book, and it deserves each one of those stars. I didn't think this book could possibly have a happy ending, but Novik surprised me there, too.

5 stars
Profile Image for Mogsy.
2,073 reviews2,634 followers
July 11, 2018
3.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2018/07/10/...

I know I’m in the minority here, but I didn’t love this book. Oh, I enjoyed it well enough, because it’s Naomi Novik and her prose is always excellent, and Spinning Silver was beautifully written. However, I’ve also had enough experience with work (especially with the Temeraire series) to know her books can be very hit or miss. Believe me, I was thrilled when she started writing fairy-tale-inspired fantasy novels, and I absolutely adored Uprooted, but I just wasn’t as taken with this one as I expected to be.

The story of Spinning Silver contains several POVs, but the closest we have to a main protagonist is Miryem, the daughter of a very bad moneylender. Everyone knows her father will let late payments slide, and is too timid to chase down what is owed. As a result, Miryem’s family lives in poverty while her father’s borrowers flourish, until one day, our protagonist has had enough, and she sets out into the village to knock on the door of everyone with outstanding payments. And as it turns out, Miryem makes a rather formidable moneylender. Very quickly, she turns a pouch of silver pennies that her father loaned her into a big bag full of gold.

But even more quickly, rumors of a girl who can change silver to gold began to spread far and wide, eventually reaching the ears of the Staryk, cold-hearted beings of folklore who desire gold and riches above anything else. Miryem catches the attention of their wintry ruler, who orders her to transform his vast stores of silver into gold, and in return he will make her his queen.

First, I’ll go into what I loved about the book: the atmosphere and folksy fairy tale vibes that bring to mind the dark, mysterious charms of a Brothers Grimm story. If the plot of Spinning Silver reminded you a bit of Rumpelstiltskin, that’s because the novel is loosely inspired by that tale, though you’ll also likely catch snippets and elements from a lot of different fairy tales while reading. One of the most impressive things the author has done here is the way she incorporates these stories and their themes into a new narrative, focusing on relatable and genuine characters while still preserving a lot of the original wonder and magic. This has always been Naomi Novik’s forte whether she’s writing about dragons in the Napoleonic Wars or a persistent moneylender’s daughter from a rural village. Whenever she reimagines a world, she does it in a way that’s rooted in history and folkloric tradition, but the end result is always complex and creative enough to make it stand out from the rest.

And now, for the things I didn’t like so much. Unfortunately for me, the second half of this book was kind of a slog. Part of the problem was Spinning Silver wasn’t just a story about Miryem, and over time, more characters are introduced to the mix. I didn’t mind it at first; Wanda for one was a wonderful new addition, and I loved the strength she showed even through hard, trying times. Then there was Irina, a girl born into the royal court, but while she may be rich in possessions, she is poor in love. Despite her upbringing though, she is selfless and caring, only wanting to do right by her people. Later on, however, we also have a few other minor POVs join their voices, and that’s where things started to get a little messy. First of all, I didn’t feel that all these perspectives were really necessary, as overall they didn’t add as much as I would have liked. Second, whereas I found myself completely rapt by the intro and first half of the novel, the rest of it felt convoluted and a bit bloated. Also, the book was probably longer than it had to be, which, admittedly, was an issue with Uprooted as well. The difference there was that I was able to push through some of the slower and more meandering parts, but here I found it was a struggle to even stay focused. It’s a shame because I loved the first half of the book, but the momentum and interest I found there did not extend all the way through to the end (though to be fair, things did pick up again just in time for the conclusion).

Like I said, I enjoyed Spinning Silver, but I also don’t think it’s a standout for the genre, especially when fairy tale retellings and stories grounded in folklore are all the rage at the moment, with so many recent book releases that feel thematically and narratively similar. It’s also not my favorite book by Novik, and incidentally, I preferred Uprooted a lot more. Truly, I wish I had loved this one just as much, but I simply couldn’t get over some of my frustrations with the slower, more tedious, and bloated parts. Still a very good read, however, and I encourage you to pick this one up if you are a fan of the author or imaginative retellings.
Profile Image for Riley.
429 reviews21.7k followers
August 24, 2018
I feel like every month so far I have read a book and said it was my favorite book of the year. But y'all. This is my favorite book of the year
Profile Image for Lucy.
417 reviews626 followers
May 24, 2019

“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.”

While the blurb focuses on the plot of two women, I would go further to say that this book focused on three women whose stories and lives interlace.

Miryem is tough and clever (and my favourite), the daughter of a moneylender but lives in poverty as her father's too-kind heart doesn't go out to collect the money from the indebted villagers. To pick her family up and out of poverty, Miryem toughens up and takes up her fathers work. Soon she travels to local towns creating more profit and when the rumour of her ability to turn silver to gold reaches the Strayk King's ears; a fairy king of winter and the people of his land, he sets her an almost impossible task- and if she fails this challenge she dies. However, if she triumphs her fate will completely change and death may be more preferable.

Irina's father schemes and wants to marry her to the tsar. While first Irina is described as plain and rather unappealing to the tsar, the unexpected betrothel to him comes as a surprise. However, Irina soon finds that the tsar contains a terrible secret within himself, which threatens both mortals and those of the winter alike.

Wanda is kind-hearted, a hard worker and a gentle soul. Unfortunately, she lives in poverty trying to provide for her family and living with a drunk, abusive father. To me Wanda was the Brienne of Tarth of this novel and would go to any lengths to protect those that she loves and cares about. I loved her amazement and wonder at words and numbers, providing her with a source of awe and magic.

All three women are torn between deadly choices and all embark on their own quests. These quests encompass sacrifice, love, family and power.

The descriptions of winter and coldness reminded me of the writing in "The Winternight Trilogy" by Katherine Arden. The writing was strongly atmospheric and descriptive that you could imagine the icy conditions of the Staryk mountain, the villages and the forests.

I loved the development and descriptions of all three main female characters. While different in characteristics and looks, all three are described as rather plain in looks. This was great for me as I find a lot of books will suddenly introduce absolutely stunning women which can make it hard to relate to. Also by making them plain the author attributes their biggest characteristics to their decisions and actions.

My favourite character was Miryem and I loved her interactions with the Staryk King- their discontent and hate for each other was entertaining, while also providing the reader with witty remarks.

If you couldn't tell-I loved this. 💙
It was 2am when I finished the book as I just could not put it down! It is an immersive and stunning read, with fascinating female leads taking control of their lives.
Profile Image for Mischenko.
1,021 reviews97 followers
June 24, 2021
Sadly, this turned out to be another retelling that I forced myself to finish for the 2021 retelling reading challenge. I added Spinning Silver because I read that it’s a "Rumpelstiltskin" retelling, but it’s so loosely based on it, I’m not sure it was a good choice for the challenge.

It’s hard to believe I didn’t enjoy this book after how highly recommended it was. Most friends loved it or at least liked it, which set my expectations high, so I purchased it and also Uprooted. My biggest issue with this book is that even with the strong characters the author created, I couldn’t connect with any of them and remained unabsorbed. I didn’t feel any emotion or look forward to anything. The story would pick up for me and then slow down over and over. There was a lot of quick jumping around with perspectives and it just seemed like there was too much going on. It was just a meh read from beginning to end for me; however, the prose was very good. I did enjoy the magical elements and Russian fairytale feel to the story.

This simply isn’t a book for me. Uprooted is still on my list, and I will read other books by this author. I’m certainly not going to bash this book over my incapability to connect with it. Because this was well-written, atmospheric, and inventive--I’m going to give it three stars.

You can also see this review @www.readrantrockandroll.com
Profile Image for Natalie Monroe.
595 reviews3,588 followers
January 9, 2019
4.25 stars

“The real story isn’t half as pretty as the one you’ve heard.”

Do you know how long I’ve waited for a Rumpelstiltskin retelling?

It is the one fairy tale where the villain doesn’t deserve his comeuppance. He made a bargain with the miller’s daughter and she weaseled out of it. We don’t know for certain what he was going to do with that kid! Sure, he was dancing in front of a cauldron, but that evidence is circumstantial. He could have fed fine cuts of meat, sent it to the finest schools, and nurtured it like Kaz with his grudges.

But back to the retelling. Spinning Silver doesn’t follow the original narrative to the letter. The Lunar Chronicles did; it more or less follows the exact plot of the related fairy tale if you read closely. It's more subtle in Spinning Silver. There are events and symbols I can point to and go, “Ah-ha, I recognize you.” The three impossible gold-spinning tasks the Staryk King gives Mireyem, for instance, or the idea of bargains.

It was a fascinating choice to make Mireyem Jewish because of the frequent association of Jews to wealth, but a choice that works very well. It adds to the symbolic undertone of the novel. A girl who can breed pennies to wealth, spin silver to gold.

Overwhelmingly, undoubtedly though, this is a story about sisterhood. Three women to be exact: Mireyem, Wanda, and Irina. Mireyem originally asks Wanda to work at her home to pay off her father’s debt. Little does she know it’s a blessing in disguise because Wanda’s father is abusive and just wants to marry her off at the best price. The girls soon develop a bond. Meanwhile, in another part of the country, Irina is married to the tsar who is widely rumored to be allied with a demon. Their lives eventually intersect, and it’s a joy to read. They don’t always agree with each other—which I love—but their bonds are forged by camaraderie and mutual respect.

After the home run Novik scored with Uprooted, I'd happily read any retelling she comes up with next.
September 12, 2022
Well now, whoever wrote the marketing blurb for ‘Spinning Silver’ was ‘spinning’ me a yarn (fib /lie).

A book that had all the ingredients; the retelling of a famous fairy tale, the battle between rulers, the Russian setting with its rich folklore and strong female characters. However, were the plaudits well founded? ….

- Magical and practical – practical huh!!!! Where on earth did they draw that conclusion from?

- A fairy tale for a modern audience – well call me old fashioned then because I did not enjoy this ‘modern’ story

- A retelling of Rumpelstiltskin – the author missed a trick here. Rumpelstiltskin was missing in action sorry - and he was one of my favourite deliciously evil characters!!!

So, for the plot

Miryem is a daughter and granddaughter in a family of moneylenders, where deep tradition has run through generations and with it a community of thankful borrowers and would-be friends. However, they collect very little of their debt which prompts Miryem to assume the role of debt collector on behalf of her family.

While revelling in her successes, the winter fairy king overhears her boast of her ability to turn silver into gold and sets her an almost impossible task – to turn his silver into gold. Failure means death with a pledge to turn her into ice. She fulfils his quest, then the white knight promises to marry her.

Switch to the parallel story of Irina who has been betrothed to the tsar himself. A man with an ambition and a scheme to kill the fairy king of winter. A man who knows how to play with the friendships and loyalties of people around him.

Only one can conquer but the story is about how Miryem and Irina separately and together, can overcome the threats of these two dark figures. Which does support the marketing blurb of a being a powerful feminist story.

Review and Comments

I love retellings of Greek mythology and our well known and loved fairy tales which is what lured me to this book. However, it missed on so many levels.

The opening chapters are very good. I felt the potential for a charming but dark fairy tale and that all important magic. Then the story went lame, uneventful and a real slog to get through, and only in the closing chapters did it re-ignite my interest again.

I would not have drawn a comparison to the story of Rumpelstiltskin, even though it was inspired by it because it just did not work, but it did set a level of expectation that wasn’t fulfilled. The characters while strong and ambitious females were unlikeable, and ones I struggled to connect with.

And finally, the story telling did not draw me in because the book felt too long and the language style felt stilted. On top of that it was difficult to work out who was actually narrating a lot of the time until you read on a few paragraphs. And now finally, I almost missed the Russian setting, in fact I would have missed it completely if the marketing blurb had not told me it was in there – somewhere.

The book does have a lovely cover and even has silver glitter on the sides of the pages and I do love that this is achieving an average score of over 4 so well done.

However, for me this did not work, as a ‘classic’ fantasy story. (again marketing blurb). So please read other reviews but for a Fantasy novel and a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, then I am sorry to spoil the happy party, but this was a disappointing 2 not so silver stars.
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