Spinning silver by Naomi Novik
Pan Macmillan, 2018. ISBN 9781509899029
(Age: Senior secondary - Adult) Highly recommended. Themes: Fantasy. Fairy tale retelling. Novik has once again written a compulsively good tale, a sister book to the award winning Uprooted. In this fabulous nod to the fairy tale "Rumpelstiltskin", Novik brings to life three girls. Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders and when her ability to collect money and turn silver into gold catches the eye of the cold Staryk Winter King she finds herself in great danger. Wanda is the daughter of a mean alcoholic who beats her and her brothers and she is desperate to leave her home. Irinushka is a duke's daughter and she has been overlooked all her life until she starts wearing the jewellery that has been made from the Staryk's silver.
Highly complex, but equally engrossing, Spinning silver follows the three girls' paths as they negotiate their family lives and their difficult marriages. All the characters are fully fleshed out and each narrative voice is distinctive and easy to follow. Miryem's story is pivotal to the tale and she is the main character, but everyone, including the secondary voices of the mothers and the husbands and other family members, come across as strong and individual, and each is memorable.
The fairytale setting is very atmospheric - the cold of the Staryk homeland, the castles that Irinushka lives in and the desperate poverty of Wanda's home are vividly described and provide a wonderful backdrop for the story.
This is not an easy book to summarise and its themes are equally difficult; magic, domestic violence, alcoholism, forced marriages, death of parents, duty to the realm, usury, family isolation but the empowerment of the three young women, and the warmth of Miryem's loving parents shine through the story making it ultimately uplifting.