Although published in 2015, I didn’t get around to reading Novik’s book Uprooted, until last year. It was incredibly magical, and was one of my favorite reads of the year. But this meant that I didn’t have to wait very long for Novik’s next novel, Spinning Silver, which came out this summer. While this book didn’t quite live up my expectations (which were very high, thanks to Uprooted), it was a stirring and beautiful story in its own right – just not exactly what I had been expecting.
I think the biggest difference between the two books, and the reason that I just can’t rate Spinning Silver as highly as Uprooted, is that Spinning Silver just isn’t a very happy book. Every single one of the narrators (and there are three main ones, plus several chapters from a handful of others) has had a terrible, difficult life, and they’re basically convinced that they have nothing else to look forward to. While the narrator of Uprooted was essentially an upbeat lady, always trying to make the best of her situation and always convinced that there was a way to save everyone, the narrators in Spinning Silver come from desperately difficult situations and are resigned to the fact that sacrifices, even of lives, will have to be made for the greater good. The three main characters each betray someone in the course of the story, and while it can definitely be argued that they owed nothing to the people they betrayed and thus were justified, it doesn’t change the tone of the story, which is that betrayal and sacrifice are sometimes just what has to happen.
It wasn’t exactly that every page was drudgery, but there was just a lot of heavy stuff to deal with. Horrific poverty, prejudice, cruelty, abuse, demon-possession, kidnapping, murder, forced marriage, etc. Adding tot he mix that the main narrator, Miryem, is Jewish, it kind of read like historical fiction with a bit of magic thrown in, and the historical fiction part wasn’t very happy.
My understanding is that Novik is Jewish, and I’m sure she is very well qualified to write Miryem’s character, but somehow the Jewishness of Miryem didn’t exactly fit with the tone of the story in my mind. Miryem herself was an excellent heroine, and her Jewishness was a part of that and it was fine, but it was also the only thing really anchoring this story into my world versus setting it someplace completely fictional, and I think maybe that was why it felt strange?? I’m just not sure. It may have also been because Miryem’s character felt like Novik was not-completely-subtly trying to constantly make a point about the persecution of Jews through the ages. Again, not a bad point to make, and it’s a point that is completely true and justified, but it didn’t always fit with the flow of the story.
The multiple-narrators aspect of the story mostly worked. Honestly, the voices between the characters weren’t super different – where they were and what was happening was what set them apart from one another, not necessarily the way they talked/thought. One of the characters is supposedly very uneducated and poor and comes from a horrifically abusive background, yet her voice sounds basically the same as Miryem’s, who comes from a loving family and is much more widely-traveled and well-read. The third main narrator is the daughter of a lord and has grown up in a much more refined setting, yet again she sounds basically the same as the other two girls. I guess most of the time, if there need to be more than two narrators to keep the story flowing, it just seems like the story ought to be written in third person instead.
I’ve spent a lot of time whining about this book, yet it was still an easy 4* read for me. The story itself is good, and the writing is excellent. I genuinely felt cold while I was reading this book about the ever-lengthening winter. And while I would have preferred to hear from the main characters in the third person, I still found them likable. Despite their horrible backgrounds and current situations, all three of the main heroines are strong and determined to do what is right, no matter the cost. They have a strong loyalty to family and community and are willing to do whatever it takes to protect the ones they love.
I would have liked to have had an epilogue of some kind. While it’s implied that everyone’s lives are going to be a bit better going forward, it would have been nice to have seen that, at least briefly, considering how long I had to spend wallowing in their misery. The love story aspects of the tale were definitely a bit rushed. Towards the end of the book, Novik skips a multiple-month period, glossing over it in just a few paragraphs. Yet that’s the exact time frame that two of the characters are genuinely coming to know and love each other. Consequently, the lovey conclusion between the two feels a bit thin.
All in all, I do recommend this book. And I think that I’ll actually like it better on a reread, now that I know where things are going. Part of my discontent with this story was definitely because of the overall tone being so much darker than Uprooted, and I wasn’t ready for that. Now that I know what to expect, I think that I can appreciate the other aspects of the story more fully. While Spinning Silver wasn’t an instant classic for me like Uprooted was, it is still a solid, well-written tale with sympathetic characters and an engaging story that I fully intend to reread in the future.