Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
My rating: 5/5 stars
Loosely based on the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, this is a complex and epic novel. The story begins with Miryem Mandelstam, the daughter of a Jewish moneylender who is terrible at collecting his debts. Embittered by her family living in poverty while the rest of the townsfolk who used their loans to benefit themselves while they look down on the Mandelstams with derision, Miryem takes it upon herself to collect what’s owed. And she’s good at it. Her quest to lift her family’s fortunes fair and square brings together many lives, from a mistreated peasant girl to the duke’s daughter, all the way up to the tsar and the king of the Staryk (think honor-bound winter elves). The plot is complex enough that it’s not easy to summarize.
It’s a story of debt and obligation, generosity and keeping one’s word. The writing is beautiful and vivid and Novik does an excellent job in keeping multiple first person narrators feeling fairly distinct. This is a book I would recommend to other writers as an example of how a character’s personality and background affect their POV. It also has many of my favorite elements of fairy tales: a normal humans who find themselves surrounded by creatures and magics much stronger than themselves who can only be bested by cleverness; the need to watch one’s word and find ways to fulfill promises even when things seem impossible; the importance of kindness, friendship, the bonds of family, and an open heart in the struggle to win free of evil.
I read a copy at the library and when I finished it, I bought a copy to keep for myself. This is one I will definitely reread and recommend.