End Date: March 30th
Author: Naomi Novik
Pages: 466 (hardcover)
Selected By: BillMo
“Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s inability to collect his debts has left his family on the edge of poverty – until Miryem takes matters into her own hands. Hardening her heart, the young woman sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold.
“When an ill-advised boast draws the attention of the king of the Staryk – grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh – Miryem’s fate, and that of two kingdoms, will be forever altered. Set an impossible challenge by the nameless king, Miryem unwittingly spins a web that draws in a peasant girl, Wanda, and the unhappy daughter of a local lord who plots to wed his child to the dashing young tsar.
“But Tsar Minatius is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of humans and Staryk alike. Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and her two unlikely allies embark on a desperate quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power, and love.”
Because that’s what the story’s really about: getting out of paying your debts.
Ah! Another book about strong women that can save themselves and others too! I don’t know how many times I can say it but I do love having strong female characters. Hold on to your corsets and petticoats gentleman and hike up those skirts I know some women that will sweep you off your feet and carry you to safety!
I didn’t want to make a row of dead babies and die.
I was proud of Miryem for going and doing what her father could not and that was provide for her family. She was not going to sit by and let the people of the world take advantage of their family while they starved and perished. She went out and provided. I got more than a little peeved at her mother when she seemed so disappointed that her daughter was collecting the money that was due from their neighbors. You almost wanted to grab her by the shoulders and ask her, “Do you want to die? Do you want your husband and daughter to die?” because that was what was going to happen if Miryem did not go out and collect from the people they had loaned money to. She was more than fair and didn’t take more than what they could give and she would even take payment in the form of goods. In the end she was fair and people should accept that and be grateful.
Sometimes when I left their house at the end of the day, once I was down the road and into the fiels and out of sight, I would put my hand on the back of my head, my hand that had grown big and heavy and strong, and I tried to remember the feeling of my own mother’s hand.
I was disappointed in her mother I was absolutely livid with her father. I can appreciate having a big heart and not wanting to take from others, even if they quite literally owe it to you, but to let your family suffer that’s unacceptable. Those townspeople were horrible and they laughed at the family they had stolen from while they continued to fill their bellies on borrowed money that they had no intention of paying back. Also, I don’t know why but I got really excited for Miryem to be in favor with her grandfather. He was proud of her accomplishments when her parents were ashamed of them. I couldn’t tell if they were ashamed because they had let this happen or if they were ashamed of their daughter.
“Of course you can, mortal girl,” he said over his shoulder, as if I was the one being a fool. “A power claimed and challenged and thrice carried out is true; the proving makes it so.”
I really like Wanda. She was very practical and all she wanted was to be her own person and be loved. I really liked she found her place that made her the happiest. If only we could all get there. She wanted to give back to others even though her upbringing was hard and after her mother passed was definitely not full of love. I also liked that her mother’s spirit was alive in a beautiful white tree. It was very peaceful and a lovely thought. I was happy and sad at the same time when she was so excited that it may taker her years to pay off her father’s debts. I was happy that she was happy and it would help keep her from having to get married and just have babies like women were supposed to in the time of this book. I was also sad that she had to feel this way.
He was only giving me a considering eye. I was a pig at the market he had decided to buy.
I liked how just everyday pleasantries and thoughtfulness seemed absurd to the fairies in the land of winter. When Miryem showed them kindness and didn’t understand why they felt the way they did my heart was brimming over with love. Something as small as giving someone a name or using your own magic that costs you nothing to give to others resulting in such a big way just hit me hard.
I didn’t really understand what mothers were, because mine was in a tree, but I knew they were very good things and you were very angry and sad if you lost them, because Wanda was and Sergey was too, and anyway, whenever Da came into our house I always wanted to run away, like the goats.
Chernobog was a fantastic monster of the story. I think all humans may have a little Chernobog in them that breathes fire of destruction.
Anger had always seemed pointless to me, a dog circling after its own tail.
I did not always agree with the tsarina but I did like that she thought of the people and what was best for them. She was smart and would not go down without a fight. I think she may have been a little soulless so I didn’t really ever warm up to her but I was happy that she wanted for the good of the many and not just for herself. I also liked that she considered everyone hers not just those she would hold personally precious. However if that was the case then this town, if it was reliant on the tsarina, may only have one person in it and that would be her nanny.
And more to the point, I was reasonably certain he wasn’t going to try and devour my soul. My expectations for a husband had lowered.
I can’t wait to read more by this author. Out of the two books of hers that I have read neither has been a disappointment.
And now, here are more quotes I really enjoyed:
She was safe for another moment, one more moment, and all of life was only moments, after all.
… that city was such a terrible place we had to pay to be let out.
It was only interested in the crumbs, which were at least of some use to one creature, as my apologies weren’t.
They would be safe, they would all be safe, even if I never came back after a wild leap down a winter road; they had each other to love and live for, and to grieve with, and to help each other on their way.
BillMo’s Favorite Character(s): My favorite character of all was the fairy king that has no name. He was scary and beautiful at the same time. I want to live in a beautiful world of winter with monstrous looking deer! I liked his hard edges that may have softened slightly in the end.
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle edition of this selection.
I found the novel to be well written, and this is the primary reason I scored it so highly, despite every female character annoying me on some level.
The first thing that struck me and made me uncomfortable was the overpowering antisemitism [Admin: the author has Jewish roots herself, so any perceived antisemitism is probably an intentional plot point, as we see in the community’s isolation of Miryem’s family]. If the goal was for me to feel isolated or feel the isolation of Miryem’s family in their rural community, I most definitely felt it. I was displeased with the portrayal of the stereotypes of Jewish people. It may have been the author’s attempt to show how ridiculous the others in the community behaved toward Miryem and her family, but it was truly just abhorrent. The issue of Miryem’s father being a money lender and ultimately, those who didn’t want to make good on their debts was just too much. It wasn’t as if her father had been overly harsh or unkind to the community. In fact, he was a pushover who couldn’t recoup his funds no matter how often he went calling on his neighbors.
The next major point that we were beaten about the head about was that women were most definitely second- or third-class citizens who were viewed as chattel versus daughters, wives or partners. We are first introduced to Miryem and her headstrong behavior was the only thing that kept her family from ruin. However, it was not a girl’s place to be a lender or debt collector. Her stubbornness causes her some well-earned angst later in the novel. We are then introduced to Wanda, who suffers at the hands of an abusive alcoholic father. No matter that she contributed positively to the household, he would sell her off for the sake of drowning himself in drink. Unfortunately, the Tsarina’s name escapes me and honestly, I didn’t really care. She was clearly of Staryk decent. However, she was of no consequence to her father until she was endowed with the Staryk silver and later became the tsarina. His lack of concern or interest in her was a minor inconvenience when we look at the mortal danger, she came faced with upon becoming the tsarina.
The three main female characters all showed a tremendous amount of fortitude and strength and for that I appreciate each of them. However, some of their behavior was misguided. Miryem’s pride caused her to be approached by the Staryk king and her stubbornness caused her to become his prisoner. She did not ask the correct questions on the front end of her dealings with the king and then became angry when she couldn’t get the answers from him later. What I truly did not appreciate was her bad bargain with the king, caused her to attempt to bargain away his life. As for Wanda, I couldn’t really fault her for her behavior. Her dealings with the Staryk king in the ultimate confrontation is what truly annoyed me. She wouldn’t allow Miryem to be taken from the mortal world. The Tsarina was purely about self-preservation when she made her deal with Miryem and subsequently with Chernobog.
I did appreciate the power of the name. The fact that the Staryk king did not allow his name to be known so that power could not be held over him, I appreciated. When he comes across the fire demon, Chernobog, the Staryk king is very clear about the power that a name has over a person. I found the Staryk king to be similar to Trent in the Rachel Morgan series. He is doing the best he can for his people and while he may seem cold and ruthless, he’s doing what he must to protect them. I personally appreciated his fierceness in his fight with Chernobog.
As I stated previously, this was well written and while I didn’t particularly care for most of the characters, I completely understood what drove them and why they were the way they were. Another good show from the author, just not exactly my cup of tea, but a good show nonetheless.
Lady Esbe’s Favorite Character(s): The Staryk lord.
Esbe read the Del Rey hardcover edition of this selection.
Naomi Novik’s writing style, as evidenced by both Spinning Silver and Uprooted, takes a bit of getting used to. I enjoyed both tales quite a bit, with this most recent far surpassing the other in my opinion, which was, all in all, itself an excellent novel. Novik starts off standing beside you in a familiar enough place – a forest, a medieval village, a palace – then she takes your hand and guides you slightly to the side, into a mirror you never even saw standing there, where the landscape and language and people are all still familiar and yet somehow new and different and altogether magical.
“… did you think I would degrade myself by pretending to be one of the low, unable to match it? I am the lord of the glass mountain, not some nameless wight, and I leave no debts unpaid.”
As always, let’s begin with all of the great things about this novel:
There are three protagonists of our story, and, though they spend a majority of the story as little more than acquaintances to one another, from the very beginning every seemingly small choice each makes has a very direct impact on the others. As a whole, I liked Novik’s use of three young women from different classes of life as the driving force of this fantasy. But no beautiful maidens with shining tresses and skin like pearls, these – no, quite the opposite: Novik’s heroines are, at a glance, all fairly unremarkable, even plain.
But I had not known that I was strong enough to do any of those things until they were over and I had done them. I had to do the work first, not knowing.
Miryem, the daughter of a Jewish moneylender and the one who serves as the most central figure, was actually my least favorite of the three young women. She begins quite well, however – her father’s compassionate nature makes him completely unsuitable for his job, and she spends her childhood struggling through poverty while those who have borrowed from her father thrive around her; however, when catastrophe strikes, Miryem goes full on do-or-die and takes up her father’s responsibilities, effectively saving her family from complete and utter ruin. But while the other two protagonists mature and step up to hold their own as the novel progresses, Miryem stalls and never quite moves beyond the single-minded purpose with which she began: to pay her debts and collect what is due.
“My mother had enough magic to give me three blessings before she died,” I said, and he instinctively bent in to hear it. “The first was wit; the second beauty, and the third – that fools should recognize neither.”
Irina is entirely on the opposite end of the spectrum: she begins as the daughter of a wealthy but ruthlessly ambitious duke. She is coddled, pampered, and groomed to be as perfect as she can be, which is, unfortunately, simply never perfect enough for her father, who is convinced she has no use other than to be a pawn in his schemes to tie his own family to the young and devilishly handsome tsar, Mirnatius. Unfortunately for Irina, his machinations come to fruition, and she finds herself trapped in a miserable and dangerous marriage – her husband is not at all what he seems, possesses an unpredictable and mercurial temperament, and loathes having been forced into a match with such a plain, unremarkable bride. While she begins the tale skittish and frightened, scurrying away at the merest hint of her husband’s presence, Irina eventually comes into her own and finds her strength – she cannot bring herself to fight for herself, but she can and will fight for those she loves and for the citizens of the country who look to her as the tsarina.
“There are men who are wolves inside, and want to eat up other people to fill their bellies. That is what was in your house with you, all your life. But here you are with your brothers, and you are not eaten up, and there is not a wolf inside you. You have fed each other, and you have kept the wolf away. That is all we can do for each other in the world, to keep the wolf away.”
Lastly, there is my favorite of the three women: Wanda, the eldest child and only daughter of an impoverished and abusive alcoholic father. Her mother, long since dead, was the only protection Wanda and her younger brothers had against their father’s rages and cruelty, and it falls to Wanda to care for and protect her siblings. She begins the story as a stoic, hardened, untrusting young woman: she watched her mother give birth to a number of children, most of whom died in infancy, only to then have to watch her mother go the same way; she has spent most of her years being used as the punching bag upon which her father vents his liquor-fueled rages; at a young age, she was saddled with the burden of playing mother to her two remaining siblings and managing her father’s pitiful house, the primary duty of which is to somehow find a way to keep them all from starving to death through an endless winter with no money and no food. All Wanda has to look forward to is the day her father marries her off to some stranger, a turn of events she is sure will end as it did for her mother: years of abuse between bouts of housekeeping and childbirth until such time as the latter finally kills her. But as the story unfolds, Wanda finds that she is cleverer than she thinks she is, and she learns that it’s okay to trust people, that it’s okay to let people in and love them and allow them to love her in return.
I didn’t have a country to do it for. I only had people.
Standing counter to our three female protagonists are three male antagonists: the Staryk lord, a fae whose cold, proud, unforgiving nature is reflected in the kingdom of snow and ice over which he rules – a kingdom which is, with every passing day, slowly encroaching upon and taking over the world of the humans; Mirnatius, the spoiled, ruthless tsar whose tantrums and fits of pique leave rooms – and sometimes people – in shambles, and; the Chernobog, a demon of fire and insatiable appetite. Not much can be said about any of these three without giving away the best parts of the story, so I’ll leave off going into details, save to say that, just as our three young women are not in the end who they were in the beginning, so it is for these three.
“A robber who steals a knife and cuts himself cannot cry out against the woman who kept it sharp.”
I really enjoyed the overall story, as well as all of the characters, good and bad – even Miryem, who, as I stated, seemed to me to be the most stagnant of the entire cast. So, too, did I enjoy the theme of causality spread throughout the novel – it’s not uncommon for good choices for one character in one chapter to be shown to have dire consequences for other characters in later chapters.
But the world I wanted wasn’t the world I lived in, and if I could do nothing until I could repair every terrible thing at once, I would do nothing forever.
As I said at the beginning, however, this author’s writing style does take some getting used to. She has a masterful grasp of language and uses it to brilliant ends, but it takes a while to really appreciate her skill. Case in point: it literally took me three weeks to get through 47% of Spinning Silver… but I read the remaining 53% in a single four-hour stretch. At this point I consider her storytelling style to be a bit like a literary Mt. Rainier: the uphill climb can be brutal and the closer to the summit you get the more you just want to curl up and go to sleep and forget all about it – but then you’re there, looking out over all of it, and you realize: you just cannot beat the view.
He would only shrug and look at me expectantly again, waiting for high magic: magic that came only when you made some larger version of yourself with words and promises, and then stepped inside and somehow grew to fill them.
All in all, I would strongly recommend Spinning Silver to any readers who enjoy fantasy (if you’re Jewish and love fantasy novels, then this will be right up your alley, as frequent mention is made by one of the protagonists of Jewish traditions and customs).
It would be worth something to have a husband who’d sooner slit his own throat than ever lie to you or cheat you. But not if he didn’t value you at least as high as his pride… I wouldn’t hold myself that cheap, to marry a man who’d love me less than everything else he had, even if what he had was a kingdom.
Elle Tea’s Favorite Character(s): The Nameless King.
Elle read the Amazon Kindle edition of this selection.