Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of a moneylender, but her father is too kind-hearted to collect his debts. In the face of poverty, Miryem decides to takes matters into her own hands and sets off to collect her fathers debts in his place. As her heart hardens and her success rises, a rumour spreads of the girl that can turn silver into gold, which attracts the Staryk king of winter himself. He sets her an impossible challenge that will result in her death if she fails, yet if she triumphs it could lead to a fate worse than death. In a desperate attempt to succeed, Miryem unwittingly spins a web that draws in a peasant girl and the unhappy daughter of a Lord.
Irina’s father plans to wed her to the tsar and he will do all his power to achieve his goal. However all is not what it seems and the tsar hides a terrifying secret. A secret that threatens to engulf the lands of mortals and winter alike.
Underlying themes of Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
Spinning Silver has an intricate web of different underlying themes, that are explored through interesting and diverse storytelling.
There are considerable differences between the wealth of the characters and this heavily influences their understanding of the world. Miryem is from a line of moneylenders and therefore has a good understanding of numbers, however when we then meet Wanda the peasant girl, she describes these numbers as ‘magic’. As the story develops we learn that when given some guidance in numeracy, Wanda is actually very good at problem solving and applies her new knowledge of numbers to other tasks such a working out pattens in fabric and replicates these patterns using numerical sequencing.
There are number of cultural differences between the mortal and Staryk characters. There are customs and societal rules that create hostile interactions and deep misunderstandings between the two. As the story develops and characters from conflicting cultures begin to understand the cultural differences, there is a weakening of hostility and the strengthening of friendships, which is a partially interesting narrative to follow.
Miryem and Irina are both interesting and highly complex characters. They are both very similar in the sense that both are underrated and both are heavily controlled by domineering men. The interesting thing about this particular theme is that we see a weakening in the domineering male characters as the female characters become stronger. One example in particular is the weakening of the Staryk king and the elaborate description of his melting. This realignment of strength internally within characters leaves way for alternations of power within the close relationships they hold.
I found the focus on overlooked strength within female characters an interesting theme. I particularly liked how the author created the female characters as relatively plain. This helped create the understanding of these characters being overlooked and underestimated because they are not dazzling beauties, which gave way for the opportunity to create a wonderful complexity of their inner selves which differs from the projection of themselves that they give to others. I thought it an amazing way of pulling focus to the narrative of overlooked strength.
This links heavily to the narrative of overlooked strength. The author creates the domineering male characters as beautiful and enchanting, which is woven to interlock with the faulted projection of their strength. This also links to the places they reside, for the tsar this is the grand palace and for the Staryk king this is the magical glass mountain. When these characters are weakened their appearance is altered, again this links heavily to the places they reside, with the tsars palace being torn apart and the literal cracking of the magical glass mountain and the fading of supplies within it. This leaves room for other characters (and in turn the reader) to see deeper into their characters and their situation, allowing for empathy. It is an interesting take on ‘beauty is skin deep’ and assists in pulling further focus to the narrative of overlooked strength.
My thoughts on Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
Naomi Novik explores complex social ideas through wonderfully crafted storytelling. While the story is very much woven on fantasy, having such a strong mortal plain makes it relatable to the reader. I found the Staryk Kingdom incredibly interesting, but I personally felt there was a lot more scope to delve deeper into this mystical land and the customs within it. Naomi Novik creates each character with such depth and complexity, that as the story develops we learn of their strengths, weaknesses and motivations. Spinning Silver is an incredibly enjoyable read and one that I would highly recommend!