RogerBW's Blog

Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik 20 June 2019

2018 fantasy. Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father does a lousy job and so she takes over. Irina is the duke's daughter, given in marriage to the demon-ridden Tsar. Wanda is a peasant girl, beaten by her drunkard father, and looking for anything that might help her survive.

So we're in a semi-fantastic Russia (or at least eastern Europe; people drink krupnik, not vodka). On the fantastic side one of the characters clearly interacts with his mother's ghost, and there are the Staryk, properly scary fey of the winter, who apparently lay claim to everything white, but really the only way to be safe from their arbitrary depredations is to stay a long way away; on the mundane, Miryem and her family are Jewish, and while pogroms are never explicitly mentioned something like them is a constant risk.

So Miryem catches the attention of the king of the Staryk, and spins silver into gold for him (in the mortal world, by taking it to a jeweller and getting it made into magically-enchanting artefacts that the duke will pay for); as "reward" he takes her back to his own kingdom. And Irina, wearing those artefacts, catches the eye of the young Tsar; she knew he was a sorcerer, but not just what was wrong with him. And Wanda, who'd been working for Miryem, has to flee after the death of her father… and then there's Irina's waiting-woman, and Wanda's little brother, and while all these changes of viewpoint are at least marked, there's nothing to indicate whose first-person story we're jumping to next.

Which wouldn't be a problem if they sounded different, but they all have the same narrating voices. And they are all dreary. None of these people (mostly women) has much in the way of distinctive personality; I surmise that they're supposed to stand for everywoman, showing that from the top of the society to the bottom their lot is pretty terrible unless they can be extraordinary and do something for themselves, which is fine… but there's so much of it, and they're all plucky individuals who do their best, with nothing distinctive about their descriptions. They see amazing things, but they are not amazed; they see surprising things, but they are not surprised; they see terrifying things, but they are not terrified. They just carry on, ho hum I'm in mortal peril, I feel sad, oh well I suppose I'd better do something about it.

There are bits that are very good, but overall I found it over-long and conscientiously dull. I expect to differ from many people on this, but it really didn't work for me at all.

(This work was nominated for the 2019 Hugo Awards.)

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