'Spinning Silver' - Book Review

Spinning Silver
by Naomi Novik
Random House, 466 pages

I first encountered Naomi Novik when I read Temeraire (more commonly called His Majesty's Dragon in North America). I really enjoyed it, but was disappointed by the sequel Throne of Jade. Still, I thought enough of her writing skills to seek out her first non-Temeraire book, Uprooted. I had mixed feelings about that one. This one had better reviews (although the reviews of Uprooted were good), so I gave it a try.

Miryem is a poor young Jewish girl who takes over the mantle of town money-lender from her father. But she's less kind-hearted than her father, and starts enforcing payment on his many outstanding loans. As her fortune improves, she hires some help so we meet Wanda (and her brothers Sergey and Stepon, and their abusive father). And then there's Irina: through politics and unintentional magic, the plain-looking daughter of a duke manages to ensnare the country's Tsar (not that she particularly wants him, but her father isn't letting her have an opinion in the conversation).

The segments of the book are told from several first person POVs: mostly Miryem, Irina, and Wanda, but Stepon and Irina's servant Magreta both get a voice too. The biggest problem is the Staryk, a race of ... ice people? whose cold domains are growing and destroying the land they all live in. Miryem, so skillful at collecting silver, is kidnapped by the Staryk - and Irina finds her new husband - the Tsar - is controlled by a demon.

The book makes much of each of the girl's limited circumstances and lack of power. And then shows how much they can achieve by being smart and relying on the strengths they do have: their intelligence, their family and friends, their kindness and influence. It was kind of heavy-handed about that. Novik does do a fairly good job of the politics of the story (a protest I've had with a number of writers recently who can't think of the structure of a nation beyond their plot), but overall it was a reasonably good story I didn't love.