It completely passed me by that Naomi Novik’s Uprooted was based on Beauty and the Beast, but Spinning Silver is clearly inspired by Rumpelstiltskin, yet also so much more. Miryem is the moneylender’s daughter, her father being far too nice for the profession. When she takes matters into her own hands, the business prospers and rumour spreads of the girl who can change silver into gold.
In the cold of winter, the glow of the Staryk Road can be seen close to their village. The Staryk lust for gold and are known to kill anyone who takes what is theirs; the white animals in the forest, the colourless trees. The rumours of Miryem’s skill reach the Staryk kingdom, and they come to see if what is said is true.
A man who’d marry me like this wasn’t marrying me at all; he was making a bargain for a girl-shaped lump of clay he meant to use at his convenience, and he wouldn’t need to value me high when my father made it so clear he didn’t.
As with the original fairytale, things are done in threes and the power of names is important to the Staryk. However there’s no imp making deals to help Miryem, she must save herself.
The story is told from multiple perspectives, and it’s useful to notice the little graphic at the top of each change of viewpoint. The coins are for Miryem, the basket for Wanda, the goat for Stepon, the crown for Irina and the spindle for Magreta.
Wanda lives with her abusive, alcoholic father and her two brothers Sergey and Stepon. They barely survive on meager rations until the day Miryem comes to collect her father’s debts. Of course, he has nothing, but Miryem demands Wanda come to work of the debt. Wanda would rather work for the moneylender than be married off in exchange for a pig or goat. I loved her story of how she pulls her family out of poverty, even if she doesn’t seem to like them much at the start. It also reflects how fair an employer Miryem turns out to be.
Irina is a duke’s daughter, destined to be married off, but no one expects a high position for her. Miryem’s solution to her Staryk problem, sets Irina on a new path, a union no one expected, especially not the tsar. As the story progresses, the three girl’s paths cross again and again, as do their paths with the Staryk, a cold race of people who live amongst the winter.
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.
It’s set in a world where young women are married off, used as bargaining chips. But these characters prove they are so much more than that. In the background hostility to Jews is hinted at, that Miryem’s family is better off where they are than in some other places, where Jews are rounded up, echoing Poland’s history.
I loved the icy setting, the harsh winter which threatens to overwhelm the kingdom. The Kingdom of the Staryk, where ice is life, versus the heat of summer which they must push back. Maybe it’s a tale of good versus evil, but it’s not as straightforward as that for all the presented villains.
As with Uprooted there is a definite fairytale feeling and the pages are filled with a magic of ice and fire, and the allure of Staryk silver.
Spinning Silver is published by Tor and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.
POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 22. A book with alliteration in the title
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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.
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