Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
I don’t read fairy tales often.
There’s just something about them that I don’t particularly enjoy. Maybe it’s the story that I already know, the characters I’m already familiar with. However, the ones I have read and loved are the ones that are different. Either the story is so far removed from the original that it doesn’t feel like the same fairy tale (Cinder by Marissa Meyer). Or, the characters are so different from their fairy tale originals that it feels like a whole new cast of characters (To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo).
Spinning Silver was actually a story that, while I knew was a fairy tale retelling, I had no idea what the story was. It’s the story of Rumpelstiltskin, in which I decided not to Google until after I’d read it to avoid any potential spoilers. But it meant that it was like reading a whole new story with a fantastic setting and new characters to fall in love with.
Unless you’re not British or not in Britain, it’s been hot. And I’m not talking a pleasant summer; I’m talking months of wanting to climb into your freezer. I sat in air-conditioned cafes for hours, took 3 cold showers a day, sucked on ice cubes like they were Werther’s Originals. Spinning Silver came through the door just as the UK decided it wanted the nickname ‘the hot fires of Hell’.
Spinning Silver is one of those fabulous books that works for both extremes of weather. You can read it in the winter, when you’re all cozied up in your fluffy socks and drinking hot chocolate. Or, like I did, trying to picture myself rolling around the snowy village that our three protagonists lived in.
And it certainly worked. I stopped dying from the heat every time I read a chapter!
Unlike Uprooted, Spinning Silver took a little time getting my attention. For a good 150 pages, we are given exposition and weirdly simple sentences. An example would be ‘I walk out the house and then I pick up the logs and bring them back into the house’. It took me a little longer than usual to realise that this character in particular is supposed to sound like this due to lack of an education. It seemed really obvious after said character started calling basic mathematics ‘magic’.
Nothing much happens during these chapters. But this was nothing compared to the switching of narratives without any notification of it happening. Considering the first two narratives we get are two girls, living in the same village, interacting with the same people, my mind started spinning. Thankfully, after complaining about it on Twitter, I got used to it.
But then more narratives came. And more, and more, and MORE until we got six. SIX.
I have a feeling not stating the change in narrative with the character’s name is more of an editing faux pas instead of Novik. Just because it seems a little weird that that would be an ~artistic direction~ that she would want to take. It didn’t serve any reason to not state who’s talking, and I don’t think I’ve ever come across this in another book before. It’s certainly not a deterrent, but it’s something to consider before reading. PREPARE YOURSELF.
Once you get over not knowing who’s narrative you’re reading straight away, Spinning Silver is an epic tale with perspectives from the peasants of the village to the rulers of the land. I loved the twists and turns and how each character has an important story to tell, although if some got lost in edits, I wouldn’t have minded.
I still gave Spinning Silver five stars despite it not being the same five stars as Uprooted. Uprooted is so special to me. I think to so many others too, but Spinning Silver feels a little different. It’s still an incredibly epic and eerily creepy tale that also felt largely historical. But while it was cold and creepy and epic, it didn’t feel entirely magical as Uprooted did. Whether it was the character’s reaction to it or the way it was described, it didn’t feel like a shocking presence. Magic existed. People coped.
But I don’t think it takes away from the story, it somehow feels right. What we got instead was a tale of the people, of the time period, and characters that fleshed out the culture more than just one character could.