Monday, August 27, 2018

Book Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Title: Spinning Silver
Author: Naomi Novik
Publication Date: July 10, 2018
Publisher: Del Rey

Pages: 480
Add to Goodreads

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders... but her father isn't a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife's dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty--until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers' pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed--and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.

But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it's worth--especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand.

A couple years ago when I read Uprooted, I went in knowing I would love it because I LOVE Beauty and the Beast retellings! Then I came out on the other side feeling extremely disappointed. When I heard about Spinning Silver, I was skeptical, but when I found out it was a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin I let myself get caught up in the hype. Before I actually read this book I owned the ARC, the US edition, and the UK Goldsboro edition. And I am again, disappointed.

Spinning Silver is a lot different from Uprooted, despite the matching covers. In this story we have Miryem as the main POV from the beginning. She's the daughter of a moneylender who's really bad at his job, which allows her to show how cold she is when she takes over the family business. The Staryk come every winter to Miryem's town where they rape and pillage and murder. She's just trying to keep her family afloat. Unfortunately, I found it really hard to connect with her. The attempts to make her a "cold" and "hard" character really just made her too distant and flat to relate to.

Somewhat early in this book, other POVs emerge as well. A lot of them. At first it's just Miryem and Wanda, the girl who works for her. Then another girl is thrown into the mix - Irina, the daughter of a duke who's being forced to marry the Tsar who is really more than a Tsar. Then Wanda's very young brother Stepon gets a POV, the most painful to read of them all. And then Wanda's maid(?) gets a POV. And then the Tsar gets a POV. Honestly, EVERYONE GETS A POV! To make the million POVs worse, they are all written with the exact same voice (with the exception of Stepon) and there is no indication of who is speaking. It's exhausting trying to keep up.

And amongst all these POVs, I couldn't find a single character to connect with. The characters in this book are all boring, to be honest. The Staryk King, who finds out how good Miryem is at her job and decides to use it to his advantage, is really the only one who I found a little bit interesting. Everyone is terrible to everyone. The Staryk King and the Tsar, the two love interests, are both awful people. The two couples hate each other to the point of everyone literally plotting everyone else's death. The Staryk King has no redeeming qualities and the Tsar might have one.

Moving on to the story, calling this a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin is really a stretch. The similarities start and end with something being turned into gold. This is a much too long and convoluted story about... I couldn't tell you what the moral of the story is. This book is slow and meandering in the same way that Uprooted was, but I feel like this one was worse. The romance is also similar to Uprooted in that the male love interests are jerks throughout the entire book and then they catch feelings out of nowhere.

The atmosphere and world building were really what kept me reading Spinning Silver. Throughout the first 75% of this book, the fantastical world kept me believing that the story would get better. I loved the descriptions of the Staryk kingdom and the winter woods. The "real" world, I have no idea about. I'm still not sure if it's supposed to be our world or not. Miryem is Jewish and there's a mention of Israel, but of course there's magic everywhere.

It was in the last 20% that I realized there wasn't any hope of redemption. I picked this up with every intention of loving it and finding the love for Naomi Novik's fairytales that everyone else seems to have. Sadly, this just was not for me. It's obvious from the reviews that I'm again in the minority, but I just could not find much to enjoy. The multiple POVs were too much, especially with nothing to distinguish the characters, and the story was much too slow. I think this may be my last foray into Naomi Novik's world.