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 (13 comments total) 17 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 [2 favorites]

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 [1 favorite]

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 [2 favorites]

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 [3 favorites]

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

I just finished this today! Happy endings for everyone! Except for Chernobog, haha

The multiple POVs were something to get used to, but I did like that there was always some context clue that let me know who I was reading about. I think Stepon's introduction was the only POV that had me wonder who had taken the reins, but it all worked out. There weren't any sections that left me lost the whole way through. Though having a Staryk narrate at least once would have been interesting (Flek, perhaps?).

I also enjoyed the complex moralities throughout, and Irina sticking to her convictions 100% against demon bargaining was extremely satisfying but mostly a relief for the genre. She and Miryem being on "opposite sides" for a few places--but still entirely respectful and understanding of the others' choices--was also really appreciated in hindsight. They're just both trying to save the people (and kingdoms) they love, but if either side had "lost" I think I would have been left frustrated.

There were a few bargains between Miryem and the Staryk king that I just... could not follow the logic of, but I chalked that up in the end to my inability to haggle at all. The ending, well. I enjoy a slow burn, and I didn't mind at all that the story didn't focus on a push-and-pull relationship. (If this had an AO3 tagging system I'd put it under "pre-relationship".) But I also enjoy immortal/mortal pairs quite a lot, so I guess I wanted a bit more hint that it was coming. Give me exposition on that two-weeks of courting, please.
posted by lesser weasel at 11:27 PM on June 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

I just read and ADORED this. I cried multiple times: Mrs. Mandelstam's speech to Wanda about not abandoning her!! Miryem being told, no, seriously, what you did is magic! And I cannot remember the last time the last lines of a book left me with such a smile on my face. I have read several Novik novels, including "Uprooted", and this is my favorite.

Also, the tsar's point of view kind of reminded me of Wodehouse in a fun way.

miles per flower, thank you for that Paste Magazine link. I think it is so amazing that, right out of the gate, this book comes out in defense of the much-maligned moneylender and turns that particular fantasy trope upside down.

Also, Miryem thinks (p. 375 in the paperback): "...and in ten years Lithvas would be a rich kingdom instead of a small, poor one, while somewhere in a dark room far below, Chernobog crunched up the Staryk children in his teeth one bite at a time, to keep all the rest of us warm." And I read this and looked up from the page and said to myself, "Omelas." But with profanity.
posted by brainwane at 11:29 PM on October 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

I just read this. For the most part I really enjoyed it and there were moments that hit hard, but I can’t help but feel it should have been two books, or some of the plot lines needed to be trimmed. I got to about page 370, looked at how much was left to go, and got actively frustrated.

I don’t know if this is because I’ve been zipping my way through shorter books this year or not, but while it was the only fault of the book, it really got me frustrated.
posted by PussKillian at 4:09 PM on October 9, 2020

I just finished this and I honestly think it helped me get mentally ready for winter. The coziness of the family scenes and domestic life was really well done. The various fairy tale parts were clever and I loved the Hansel and Gretel house. I listened to the audiobook and first thought Chernobog's voice was cheesy, but in the end it seemed to fit him quite well.
posted by soelo at 10:31 AM on October 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I just reread "Spinning Silver" and the second time through I better understand the Staryks' values around debt, negotiation, thanks/gratitude, etc. I'm still reflecting on how Novik shows that demanding what one is owed is part of self-respect, and how finance and writing and math are honored as forms of magic.

And... I am still finding my way through this, but in Miryem's working out how to deal with the Staryks' conception of contract, promise, and obligation, is Novik saying something about Jewish culture? Not just in how Miryem figures it out, but in Staryk culture?
posted by brainwane at 10:47 PM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

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