May 182019

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik

Synopsis: A G.R.R. Martin-esque exploration of power — its sources and its uses, its gifts and its pitfalls — told in the style of a fairytale. For real.

Book Review: I’ve grown a bit tired of fairytale-retelling novels, mostly because there are so many of them, and they’re never very inspired. I should have remembered that Novik wrote the Nebula-winning “Uprooted” and had some more faith. My lowered expectations were completely blown out of the water, and I devoured this novel.

The story centers on a Jewish girl in medieval Russia. The rest of the village despises them and takes advantage of her father. When she asserts the power of the law (and her rich Uncle living in the capital) to protect her family, she begins to understand the limits of laws-on-paper without immediate physical power to back them up.

She also displays rock-hard bad-assery in terms of realizing that reputational effects are extremely important, and a single slip can ruin them forever. She might as well have “A Lannister pays her debts” as her personal motto. There are several amazing moments were we see her forced into stone-hearted acts because failing to carry through with them would leave her open to predation in the future. It’s done very well in its own right, but the contrast of pure Grimdark themes in a fairytale world is awesome.

Speaking of faeries, we got those too! They present the super-human threat that really complicates things. They are alien and fascinating, and I loved everything about them. I kept thinking “If Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell had been awesome instead of shitty, this is the book it would have been!” Their presence escalates the story from one of personal struggle in a village to an existential threat against all humans in the country, and possibly the continent.

My major complaint about this book is that the sequel was inexpertly sewed onto it. “Spinning Silver,” as I recognize it, ended about 2/3rds of the way through the book. The sequel is then smashed in, and the sequel is reeeaaaaally not to my taste. It’s a standard Romance book of the Beauty and the Beast style. Female lead is captured and imprisoned by a misunderstood male lead, they fight a lot, but eventually she comes to understand him, and he comes to respect her, and they fall in love. uwu.

I assume that it’s a very good Romance. Novik is a great writer, and I’ve really loved the two other books of hers I’ve read (Uproot, and Spinning Silver). But Spinning Silver 2 just isn’t the sort of story I like, so it wasn’t for me. I regret reading it, I only did so because it was in the same book as Spinning Silver 1, and I didn’t realize it was a different novel. :(

So: Spinning Silver 1, Recommended! Spinning Silver 2, Not Recommended. If you have taste similar to mine, stop after the first climax. (You’ll recognize it when you see it).

Book Club Review: Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it to our book club meeting for this book, so I got nothing here.

  2 Responses to “Not a Book Club Review – Spinning Silver”

  1. I strongly disagree with characterizing a full third of the book as a Beauty and the Beast narrative, I could kinda see that after the scene with molten gold but even there I feel like it’s more a matter of her liking the role than the beast. Also I think that the conclusion of the ‘romance’ is meant to be unsatisfying. At my book club we generally agreed that it was a commentary on how in the time period where this is set marrying well is considered a good outcome for a woman even if it isn’t the most loving match.

  2. Huh!

    (I’ve been waiting for you to review this for a while. Very glad you liked it, even partially =)

    See, I liked the whole thing, and I think what made it work was seeing it as about Trades rather than Power per se. They’re pretty closely related of course! But the fundamental aspect of the story that I enjoyed was “what is worth what else, and to whom?” Naturally, it has to be a fairy-tale, because making deals is sort of the fey’s whole thing. On that reading, there’s not really so much of a distinction between parts of the story; they’re looking at things from other angles and at later times in various characters’ development. And of course things, or concepts, or other people (!) have different worth to different people or at different times – which makes the romance(s) flow a lot more, or at least fit into the theme of the book.

    I understand not liking the stockholm symdrome-y aspect regardless buuuuut it was kind of a thing in Uprooted as well, and my thinking is that an author can earn their magical-realm bullshit by having it be on-theme, setting-appropriate and not egregiously offensive/edgy. All very YMMV of course.

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