Took me a while to finish this book – a month to be exact.
The book starts super slow, but catches up after a point. I was so invested in Miryem, Wanda and Irina that after a point I realised that I was actually relishing this book. I never wanted it to end!
Synopsis : Miryem’s father and grandfather are moneylenders. But her father’s inability to collect his debts out of gullibility and compassion has left his family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem takes matters into her own hands. Hardening her heart, the young woman sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold.
Set an impossible challenge by the nameless king, Miryem unwittingly spins a web that draws in a peasant girl, Wanda, and the unhappy daughter of a local lord who plots to wed his child to the dashing young tsar. But Tsar Mirnatius is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of humans and Staryk alike. Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and her two unlikely allies embark on a desperate quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power, and love.
Now, THIS is what I call a Song of Ice and Fire – a compact one. I love the fact that this is a standalone book by Naomi Novik. Standalone fantasies are tough to find – the good ones atleast.
The prose here is lush, yet simple. I like the fact that the story began with something so ordinary – Miryem living in a house where food is scarce but values are not. And then she takes over as the breadwinner of the family. She catches the fancy of the Staryk lord – who’s kind of handsome IMO. I dunno why there’s not more of a detailed description here. He could either be like a cold Jon Snow or simply a Whitewalker King – you take a pick.
The fact that this is based on Polish folk/fairy tale caught my attention and somehow it called to me like no other book has in a long time. It is refreshing, yet familiar in its way of storytelling. It’s like going back to the childhood to find not one but two supposedly bad guys – one made of ice, other of fire. And that love conquers all demons – literally in the case of Spinning Silver.
There’s not just two couples here whose stories are gripping. There’s Wanda and her brothers too – Stepon and Sergei who go through a rather painful and abusive life – until it ends on a regretful but ‘meant to be’ note. And then there’s Miryem’s parents and Irina’s caretaker whose love for their children knows no bounds whatsoever. The sacrifices and risks taken by each character in the book is heartbreaking, and the conclusions of those risks culminating into favourable results, heartwarming.
There’s several amazing quotes here that I have underlined in my book, but one of them is what defines the tone of the book –
“So the fairy silver brought you a monster of fire for a husband, and me a monster of ice. We should put them in a room together and let them make us both widows.”
That being said, there’s a lot of feminist undertones that surface every now and then, and those really strike an emotional chord. Especially when Miriyem’s mother tells Wanda after she loses her father and she and her brother are finally in a safer place, likelier to be alive than when they were with their abusive, psychotic, alcoholic. They were more likely to die of physical abuse than they were to of starvation and poverty. And when Wanda, Stepon and Sergei are free of it, Miryem’s mother said something that had me in tears –
“Hush, sweetheart. You don't have a mother anymore, but let me to speak to you with her voice a minute. Listen. Stepon told us what happened in your house. There are men who are wolves inside, and want to eat up other people to fill their bellies. That it what was in your house with you, all your life. But here you are with your brothers, and you are not eaten up, and there is not a wolf inside you. You have fed each other, and you kept the wolf away. That is all we can do for each other in the world, to keep the wolf away.”
Irina too, is a strong character. Dealing with a husband who’s possessed by a demon and yet holding her own ground despite having no formal training in how to deal with one – is fascinating to say the least. While Mirnatius remained my least favourite character, it was understandable where his pain and frustration to be a royal pain (literally) came from. So did the rest of the characters – all the pain they felt and how they acted out, was justified. So there was no grudge against anyone. Noone disliked despite their quirks and behavioural problems (except Wanda’s father ofc)
This is a beautiful book full of emotion – at first you won’t get the right nerve but once you do, there’s no looking back. There’s female empowerment, power of unity of a family, love and may be even romance underlining the plot – and all through a backdrop of a proper quintessential fairytale with a good versus evil trope. This book will remain one of my most favourites through life.