Buddy Read: A magical, creative fantasy, a loose retelling of Rumpelstiltskin
filled with strong female characters, a mystical wintery world and two young women who grow to be unlikely queens trying to save their kingdoms.
Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik
Award: Audie Award Fantasy
Published 2018, 466 pages
A loose retelling - as in, there's a woman who can magically turn silver into gold (though not by spinning thread this time). But that's pretty much where the similarity ends. I actually had to go read a synopsis or two to remember any of the details of the original fairy tale.
Magic abounds throughout the tale - there's a magical kingdom set in a frozen wintry mountain peopled with "ice" people and a very stern, icicle King. There's a firey demon that wants to devour the magical ice kingdom. There are two very strong minded women from very different backgrounds that get caught up in the conflict between the demon and the ice King. Can they save themselves and their people?
There's Miryem, who I'd say is the main protagonist and can turn silver to gold; Irina, the plain Duke's daughter who also has a bit of magic (climbing through a mirror into another realm seems really cool!); and, Wanda, a servant from an abusive home. These three women form the core of the story - each strong in different ways, but each play a major role in the success of the story. One thing that bothered me is that the storylines for Irina and Miryem were so very similar, they were almost redundant....not sure we needed both.
"I didn't know what I was feeling, that made those words come. Angry, I think. I didn't remember ever being angry before. Anger had always seemed pointless to me, a dog circling after its own tail. What good was it to be angry at my father, or my stepmother, or angry at the servants who were rude to me? . . . It had all seemed equally useless to me. Anger was a fire in a grate, and I'd never had any wood to burn. Until now, it seemed."
My fave character is Wanda - I like how she starts the story timid and broken and desperate but finds her inner strengths as she's tested over and over. Each little success of standing up for herself becomes a building block for the next time. The other two women become the unlikely queens - one of the ice King, one of the demon.....and combined they have to be more clever than their husbands in order to save themselves. I love a clever woman, don't you?
". . there were still people to bow to: sledges full of bags and boxes and people, enough people to make a village of their own, all following the tsar, like he was not really one person but all of them together, something made out of people."
Circumstances have put Wanda (the servant) and her brother in a tiny house in the woods. It's a magical house as things seem to appear and disappear without them understanding how. On page 213 I finally have an "aha" moment as I realize what that magic means. I even said "OH" out loud as it dawned on me! It's a cool scene.
". . there was cooking to be done and dishes to be washed, tables to be laid and cleaned again, children to be fed and crying babies to be held. A crowd of women around me doing the ocean of women's work that never subsided and never changed and always swallowed whatever time you gave it and wanted more."
Told from alternating first person perspectives, it sometimes got confusing to know who was talking. I also had a little trouble figuring out the "rules" for the demon or ice King.....why they could do one thing and not another. In spite of that, I found the story engaging enough to continue, and even had a teary moment at the end.
photos: top ice cave-Shvets Anna via pexels; branch, Terrie Purkey
Based on the reviews I saw online, I appear to be in the minority in my opinion of this book. I read 100 pages and said, enough. I didn’t finish it because I found it incredibly boring. Nothing was happening. Way too much time was spent on the two girls Miryem and Wanda and their trading for silver. A penny for this, a penny for that, over and over. I didn’t find either girl interesting and that didn’t change when they added Irina. I didn't understand what the Staryks were; evidently it does become clear later in the book. I also found that with most of the chapters it took a few paragraphs or a page or so to figure out which girl was being talked about.
As a Buddy Read, my sister and I discussed the book after she finished and our reviews of the book will be quite different from each other's considering I didn’t like it enough to finish and she liked the book. From Terrie’s description I think I would like parts of this book, basically the second half, but I didn’t have the patience to continue when I wasn't enjoying the story so far. After all, you don't know it's going to get better. I don’t think it should take 100+ pages for a book to come together!