Book Review: SPINNING SILVER by Naomi Novik

Title in white on indigo next to thorns and a Russian onion-dome palace
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: standalone


Will dark magic claim their home?

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s too kind-hearted to collect his debts. They face poverty, until Miryem hardens her own heart and takes up his work in their village. Her success creates rumours she can turn silver into gold, which attract the fairy king of winter himself. He sets her an impossible challenge – and if she fails, she’ll die. Yet if she triumphs, it may mean a fate worse than death. And in her desperate efforts to succeed, Miryem unwittingly spins a web which draws in the unhappy daughter of a lord.

Irina’s father schemes to wed her to the tsar – he will pay any price to achieve this goal. However, the dashing tsar is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of mortals and winter alike. Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and Irina embark on a quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power and love.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Well, I FINALLY got around to picking up this book, after it sat on my shelves for almost two years. I know it’s a well-beloved book and friends have been telling me to read it for ages.

With SPINNING SILVER is technically a Rumpelstiltskin retelling (albeit it INCREDIBLY loosely – as in “the author started the writing path here but ended up on another continent when the walk was done”), it feels very much like a fairy tale, with a very otherworldly quality to it. There’s a slow, dreamy feel to the writing. And yes, the pacing is incredibly slow and meandering, which only helps built that sensation. It’s the sort of book that pulls you in, but you also notice the speed (or lack thereof) at the same time.

One of the things I noticed in this book was just how hard it was to have an expectations about what was to come. I had no idea where it was going at any point – at best I might be able to guess a chapter ahead, but that was it.

I’m a reader who like to have expectations – I like to be able to guess where I’m heading. Do I have to be right? No, not at all. I like to have my expectations overturned, OR have them fulfilled in a satisfying way (not “I can predict every beat” but “I suspect the ending will have something to do with X and it was, but via Y.”) It’s like climbing a mountain. I want to see what might be the summit from the start, have a tangible goal to work towards. It might be a false summit, but I want something to aim for. I’d like the path to be as surprising but well laid, but I don’t want there to be fog three inches from my face at all times.

It was enjoyable despite this, but it was an interesting thing to note about my reading – how much expectation plays into how I read.

There are a LOT of POVs in this book, with new ones appearing very late into the book. I think there are six, but it may be more. All of them are in first person, with no name appearing above the new scene (POV switches at the scene level) to tell you who. However, you could generally work out who was talking pretty soon on, mainly by who was referred to in the scene and who was therefore the “I”. It’s a good example of how to switch readers across POVs.

Was there some distinct voice? I’d say only for a few POVs. My favourite, the tsar, was the voiciest. He comes in SO late, and has two maybe three scenes only, but I loved the bitter, sneering tone of it so much.

There were a few scenes where I wondered why that POV had been chosen, as it meant observing rather than participating in the action (breaking the “pick whoever has the most at stake as the narrator” advice for multi-POV books). However, that did lend itself to that fairy tale not-quite-here atmosphere.

I will probably pick up her other fairy tale retelling at some point, UPROOTED, though I’ve heard some questionable things about the romance in that one (which was one of the reasons I was so hesitant to pick this one up).

Read my reviews of other books by Naomi Novik:

Young Adult:

The Scholomance:

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