Spinning Silver

By Naomi Novik

Rating: 4 stars

I enjoyed this book a lot, but it did take me longer to get through than I expected, since I kept stopping throughout it, especially early on. It took me a while to figure out why, but I eventually realised that the two main protagonists, Miryem and Irena both end up married against their will (or at least, not actively wanting it) fairly early on, and this is something that touches a nerve with me. It was delicately handled and both women are able to think on their feet and deal with their respective situations. But still.

The blurb on the cover talks only about Irena (the duke’s daughter, who he schemes to marry to the tsar) and Miryem (the moneylender’s daughter, who’s much better at his job than he is, and attracts unwelcome attention because of it), but there are several other PoV characters as well and Novik does an excellent job of differentiating them and making them feel distinct.

Through one of these characters, the peasant girl Wanda, we discover a different kind of magic to that encountered by Miryem or Irena. We discover again the power of literacy and numeracy. Miryem brings Wanda into her household as a servant to help pay off her father’s debt and she teaches her the meanings of the scratches on the paper and how they create credit and debt. We see the magic of literacy through fresh eyes, which reminds us of the immense power that each and every one of us has and barely even realises it. The power to verify the truth, to travel to impossible times and places, to understand and appreciate how long a debt will last. That is magic indeed.

An excellent story, drawing on Novik’s own heritage to create a wonderfully believable setting and all too believable fears of the Jewish residents of the country.

Book details

ISBN: 9781509899043
Publisher: Pan
Year of publication: 2018


By Naomi Novik

Rating: 4 stars

Agnieszka lives in a valley menaced by a Wood from which nothing that goes in comes out. Or at least, comes out unchanged. Their valley is protected by a powerful, unaging wizard called the Dragon, but he demands payment for his protection: every ten years he takes a young girl from the valley. Although everyone knows that this time round it will be beautiful, brave Kasia who will be picked, it isn’t, it’s Agnieszka. She leaves her valley behind and her world changes forever.

I really liked this book. Agnieszka’s story is great fun to follow, and the opening chapters are oddly funny. Although Agnieszka herself is terrified for a lot of it, as the reader, we’re already starting to see what she can’t through her fear, and that lends those chapters an element of farce, as the poor girl stumbles and wrecks everything she comes into contact with. Obviously this doesn’t last, and it’s a joy to see Agnieszka come into her power and start to drive the narrative.

In fact, this book doesn’t do something that often annoys me, particularly in books with female protagonists: Agnieszka is never passive. She needs a push to get going, but she chooses her own destiny. She drives every major decision in the book, and is never just caught up in events or pushed around from pillar to post and that’s something that I admire, both in the character and the author.

The book never hides from the consequences of violence. Agnieszka agonises over this even as she does what she must, but it’s never romanticised. Violence is shown for what it is: nasty and brutish.

The only bit that didn’t really convince was the romance. I can see where it came from, but I would have been just as happy without it. (Personally, I don’t think that every protagonist needs to find romance to have a happy ending, but that’s a rant for another day).

Book details

ISBN: 9781447294146
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Year of publication: 2015

Powered by WordPress