Miryem grows up in poverty even though her father has lent funds to most of the families in her village. While the others prepare holiday feasts in snug homes with roaring fires, she and her parents freeze and starve in a hovel. This is because Miryem’s father has the heart of a rabbi and can’t bring himself to ask for the payments he’s owed.
When Miryem’s mother falls ill, Miryem knows only a doctor can save her, and doctors require money. Seizing matters in her own hands, she goes into the village to collect.
The borrowers try to put her off. They shout, bluster, and lie. But Miryem stands firm, returning home with her first payments. Some families could only offer goods instead of coins, which Miryem accepted. It’s more work for her to convert these products into money, but she does it.
She doesn’t just save her mother – over time, she builds upon these first fruits, creating a fair but thriving business. Through her own ingenuity and hard work, she becomes a trader and entrepreneur as well as a moneylender, thereby turning rolls of silver coins into fat doubloons of gold. Her parents might wish she hadn’t needed to take up such work, but they now live in a snug home of their own, with plenty to eat and enough pennies to hire a local girl who’s grateful for the chance to earn a wage and thereby escape her abusive father.
But when Miryem boasts of her success during a sleigh ride in the forest, the cruel fairy king who rules the woods overhears. Believing that she can turn silver into gold, he arrives on her doorstep with a terrible ultimatum. Either she will replace his silver coins with the same number of golds, or he will freeze her to death where she stands.
Just as Miryem turns silver into gold, Naomi Novik turns the act of reading into a blissful escape. Spinning Silver is an enchanting fantasy full of bewitched metals and magic portals, furs and finery, deer-driven sleighs and enchanted huts. Throw in a cold lord, a fire demon, a sorcerous tsar, and three extraordinary young women, and you have a heady elixir indeed.
Having cracked open Spinning Silver, all I wanted to do was immerse myself in Novik’s story of three young women who must defeat cruel patriarchs to survive. “Gripping” might be a cliched adjective, but it describes this novel perfectly. Novik’s heroines are as focused, determined and ruthless as George R. R. Martin’s Daenerys of the Dothraki. Her setting is reminiscent of Narnia under the wintry spell of the White Witch. Her plot will appeal to fans of Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series and Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air books. Particularly newsworthy, considering the troubling rise of anti-Semitism in the U.S. today, is Novik’s sympathetic portrayal of moneylenders and loving description of Jewish traditions.
Novik is also the author of Uprooted, which won the Nebula award in 2016, and the New York Times bestselling Temeraire series. In 2007, she received the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer at the World Science Fiction Convention.
Spinning Silver was published by Del Rey on July 10, 2018. It is 480 pages, priced at $28 in hardcover and $12.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Nicolas Delort. To get swept away, point your browser to The Verge for an excerpt.
Elizabeth Galewski is the author of The Wish-Granting Jewel, a fantasy novel, and Butterfly Valley, a tale of travel and transformation based on true events. To learn more, please visit her official author’s website at www.elizabethgalewski.com.