I first encountered author Naomi Novik’s work with her delightful Temeraire series that featured talking dragons during the Napoleonic Wars. When the series ended, I read her standalone, Uprooted, an imaginative Grimm-like fairytale for adults that won the prestigious Nebula Award. Her newest book, Spinning Silver, continues along those lines and takes inspiration from the Rumpelstiltskin fable. The result is magical.
The story focuses on three young women who face difficult circumstances and whose fates become intertwined. Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of Jewish moneylenders who lacks wealth but has a loving family. Wanda is a motherless peasant girl who lives with an abusive father. Irina lives in a royal family but does not know love, except from her old nanny. The story goes back and forth from these three women as well as other characters.
While Miryem’s grandfather is successful at his trade, Miryem’s father is not, and fails to reclaim the money he loans out, leaving the family to starve. She decides to take over her father’s business and soon is collecting what is owed her family, causing deep resentment among the villagers. Novik subtly but effectively shows how Miryem and her family face anti-Semitism from the townspeople. Unfortunately, her financial success at turning silver into gold attracts the attention of the great Staryk winter king, who has brought long winters to the villages.
Miryem, Wanda and Irina have to fight for those they love against what seems like impossible odds. This complex tale is atmospheric and chilling with riveting characters. Highly recommended.