Going into Spinning Silver, all I knew was that it was a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. It would be more accurate to say that the story incorporates elements of Rumpelstiltskin. While Spinning Silver is certainly a fairy tale with similar elements, it is very much Naomi Novik’s own story. Key elements are reused, such as turning objects into gold and names having power, but the plot and characters are substantially different. These elements both old and new are woven together for a fantastical, second-to-none modern fairy tale. The characters provide an extremely diverse cast, with a plethora of different actions leading them to each other as the story unfolds.
Our lead character is Miryem, daughter of an unsuccessful Jewish moneylender who takes her family’s fate into her own hands. But in the process of doing so, she unwittingly sets herself on a much different path in a world of magic. Then there is Wanda, daughter of an abusive drunk who struggles to help herself and her brother survive winter. Finally, there is Irina, daughter of a duke who sees her as a means to an end rather than a person. Some portions of Spinning Silver are from the POV of other characters, but these three women are the catalysts whose stories will change the fates of two kingdoms.
The world in Spinning Silver has a bit of real-world basis, such as Miryem’s family being Jewish. The age seems equivalent to medieval Europe, but with the people knowing full well that magic exists. Most hope magic does not impact their everyday life, for it is a thing of mystery and fear. This holds true for the powerful noblemen in their walled cities as much as the peasants in their small villages. As the Staryk arrive with the winter, the people cower for their gold and their lives.
So much can be said about Spinning Silver, and this short review certainly will not do it justice. This is not a simple black and white tale of good versus evil. The characters all exist in shades of gray, albeit some are darker grays than others. Each character changes over the course of the story, as will the opinions readers hold for them. But these changes are never stale, never boring, as Spinning Silver remains enchanting throughout. If you pick up any fantasy book this year, if you have any interest whatsoever in fairy tales, or if you want a book captivating enough that you will binge it in a day, then there is no better pick than Spinning Silver.