Book: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
“But 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.”
Another one in my series of Hugo reads. I actually bought this one in paperback when I finished it because I loved it that much.
The story starts off following Miryem, the young daughter of a moneylender whose father is too kind to collect on his debts leading them to live in poverty. When her mother gets sick she takes over collecting to ensure she can actually care for her family.
It turns out that she has a knack for it and she turns around the family business, commenting that she can turn silver into gold. Unfortunately for her this boast is overheard by a race of creatures bound to the winter and hungry for gold who want to use her abilities for their own ends.
The book actually has a number of different narrators, mostly women, adding more voices as the story goes on. If I have any complaint at all about the book, it’s the fact that some of the narrators didn’t entirely feel necessary to me and at one point it actually took me a moment to work out whose point of view we were seeing things from, which threw me out of the story for a moment.
But mostly what I loved was that this book gave us several very well realised female characters, with their own problems, motivations and story arcs and the crossover between them was handled very well. She managed to balance showing us the troubles that women of the time might go through, without making them perpectual victims and also whilst still sticking to the very well done fairytale atmosphere of the book.
“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 kept the wolf away. That is all we can do for each other in the world, to keep the wolf away.”
I was very impressed at how she blended a feeling of realism in the way the characters acted and how the setting works, especially how well she conjures up a sense of cold (and deprivation at times). I felt entirely swept up into the world she created and it was honestly a book I struggled to put down at points.
Previously I have only read the first of the Temeraire books (which I did very much enjoy), but this is so much better than that. I have been told by others that Uprooted is even better and if that is the case then it really must go up my priority list to read because honestly this was such an excellent book. I must admit I am a sucker for modern fairytales (well written in the modern era in this case) so this book was entirely up my street, the feminist leanings just made it even better.
One of the other main things I feel I need to mention is the clever way that she twists the stereotypes of the Jewish moneylender and actually does something positive with it. Given the loaded history of such characters and how often they have been used to harm the Jewish community, it was really pleasant to see them reclaimed in this manner, especially given that anti-semitism seems to be once again on the rise at the moment. A timely book and well deserving of its place in the Hugo nominees.