In Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik has woven together a handful of fairy tales to tell the stories of three women in a fantastical medieval Lithuania. Miryem is the daughter of a Jewish moneylender who is terrible at actually collecting money. Wanda is the daughter of a drunken, abusive father. Irina is the overlooked daughter of a duke. These women believe in their value and, as their stories take off and they mix with magic and danger, the three will finally have a chance to demand the respect they are owed.
We first meet Miryem before she takes over her father’s business. Her father is such a soft touch that its easy for the villagers to take advantage of him. But Miryem discovers a talent for making money when her mother falls ill and she has no choice but to go out and get money for food. She can turn silver into gold with her entrepreneurial skills—which unfortunately gets misinterpreted by the terrifying kind of the Staryk, who wants her to literally transform silver into gold and takes her away from her home to his snowy kingdom. Meanwhile, Wanda pays off her father’s debt by working for Miryem. In one of the less weird touches of magic, Wanda and her brothers is watched over by their mother’s spirit from where their mother lives in a snow tree.
It’s only later that we meet Irina, who attracts the attention of the tsar. This might have been the start of a dream come true except for the fact that the tsar is possessed by a fiery demon. For several chapters, the three women continue on their more-or-less magical paths, until they start to scheme their way out of their predicaments. Unlike other books with multiple narrators, I found all of the stories equally enthralling—maybe because I was busy trying to spot the fairy tales Novik was playing around with.
The themes of value and cost come up over and over in this book. Miryem has to bargain with the Staryk king for answers to her questions. Irina has to bargain with the demon to stay alive. Unlike Irina and Miryem, Wanda has to learn that she has value beyond what she can earn with her labor, but she has the spirit to say no when she’s pushed into deals she doesn’t want to accept. Spinning Silver is satisfyingly feminist as these women refuse to just go along with what the men (and supernatural beings) in their lives want. This book had me cheering for the protagonists as they battled whatever high stakes, seemingly impossible challenges came their way.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration. It will be released 10 July 2018.