Spinning Silver
July 19, 2018 12:29 PM - by Naomi Novik - Subscribe

Miryem, the daughter of a softhearted moneylender in a small village in Lithvus, takes over her father's business to keep her family from starving. As she steps into this role effectively, she attracts the notice of an Old One, a powerful Staryk lord from a kingdom of winter and magic, who presses her to spin silver into gold for him. The ensuing action draws in two other young women pushing at the limits of the roles they were born in--Wanda, a farmgirl from Miryem's village, and Irina, a duke's daughter with her own connection to magical beings--along with a prosperous Jewish family in the large city Vyšnia, the tsar himself, and a wide range of characters with a keen interest in how long winter will last, from squirrels to powerful beings of magic.

Much of the marketing describes it as a retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin story, but that's only one of the fairytales and bits of Slavic folklore (and history) that the novel is steeped in. Brief interview with Novik about her source material for Spinning Silver (and Uprooted) here.
posted by miles per flower (8 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I've been thinking about this book a lot since I read it--about the many narrative voices she uses and how/why that's different from Uprooted, about how well the historical account of Jews in medieval Eastern Europe fits in a world of fantasy, about all the big questions Novik points the reader to... but I want to start with something tiny: tea with cherries! I'd never heard of this before and the book has several gorgeous, loving descriptions of tea with preserved cherries that make we want some like right now despite the heat hereabouts.

(Vyšnia, the name of the large city that I assumed was a stand-in for Vilnius, also seems to be Lithuanian for "cherry.")
posted by miles per flower at 12:57 PM on July 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I read this a couple days ago and loved it. It's substantial in every important respect -- my first thought when I finished it was that it will win the Hugo for best novel.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:10 PM on July 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the nudge. I'm requesting this from my library.
posted by puddledork at 3:31 PM on July 19, 2018

I just read this too on a friend's recommendation and could not put it down. There's so much in it, and it's absolutely a pleasure to read. I am not always into stories billed as fairytale retellings, but good news, this really isn't.
posted by potrzebie at 9:54 PM on July 19, 2018

I just finished this today. I also couldn't put it down. I really liked the interweaving of the different viewpoints, and how they complicated and illuminated the magic/mystery elements. As well as beautifully capturing those multiple voices (Stepon!) and multiple complex moral positions (Miryem! Irina!).
posted by misfish at 12:00 AM on July 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed this, though I am . . . iffy on the Miryem/Staryk ending. (It is the same ending as Uprooted, which I was also iffy about.) I'm fine with Irina and the tsar.

Overall, ignoring that, I loved the book -- it pulled in a lot of mythology I enjoy, the beauty & the beast stuff, a seasonally reversed Hades/Persephone, general fairy tale Plot Items. I don't understand why Wanda, who discussed the magic spells put on the food, never discussed kosher rules (they have goats, so they have milk, so there must be something going on).
posted by jeather at 1:00 PM on July 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

I just finished this. It is a beautiful respite from our hellworld and reminds me very much of Katherine Arden's recent Russian books. I liked this better than Uprooted, although that held me well until the end.

I didn't like the pairing at the end of Uprooted, but oddly, I want to know a lot more about Miryem's marriage with the Staryk. I mean, I get it, I ship Reylo and all so you know that I'm trash, but . . . he killed a lot of people. And he tried to kill her kind of a lot. I'm not saying no, I just want to know more about this relationship. Also, I really want to see fan art of this Lee Pace-looking Erlköning signing a ketubah and standing beneath a chuppah.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:42 AM on September 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'd just like to state my appreciation that this book did not contain any rape or attempted rape.
posted by bq at 2:40 PM on September 24, 2018

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