Spinning Silver is a new adults fantasy fiction book about two young women who, through circumstances out of their control, are drawn together into the fantastical warring ambitions of their husbands. Fantasy with a hint of romance is my genre. To this day, the Winter Night series by Katherine Arden is my favourite book series, and this book seemed similar, so I thought, why not? Especially during the cold months.
I haven’t read Novik in a while. And reading this, it became clear that Novik never really graduated to adult/ new adult fiction in the way that other writers of her genre have. Spinning Silver read like a text trying so hard to be more important, more sacred and influential then the author knows how to be.
The female leads were the best part of this novel; they were strong and smart in their own right, from beginning right through to the end. They didn’t have to experience hardship to gain their wit, and they don’t fall into passive lovey-doveyness with their husbands at any point. They have all of the brains and resolve to get themselves out of tight situations and make savvy political moves. But as much as I admire the sentiment of their characterisation, it doesn’t feel natural.
It’s not subtle- a little like The Glass Woman. Their strength of character isn’t necessarily woven into the fabric of the narrative – it can seem brass and a little uncouth at times- preachy in its overtness. The other characters aren’t fleshed out at all. The magical characters aren’t given much in the way of personalities, but we are expected to believe they feel deeply when they make grand gestures out of nowhere.
And in other places, the book seems more concerned with exploring the details of the Jewish faith, which isn’t all that surprising, as the characters cultural and religious background is set up from the start. But the story does, to an extent, revolve around these articles of faith in a way that the blurb doesn’t hint at, so it isn’t transparent, nor is it really clear whether the point of the story is for it to be a vindication of Judaism with fantasy elements thrown in, or fantasy novel with aspects of Judaism. Either would be perfectly fine- I just found it odd that the promotion and blurb weren’t transparent with the narrative’s aims.
One of the main characters, who is given half of the blurb, isn’t met until ¼ of the way through the novel. Another character, who isn’t mentioned in this blurb at all, is given most of the first half of the novel and features very prominently throughout, so it seems that whoever wrote the back copy really didn’t know how to weigh up what the most important themes and characters of the book were, making it misleading for anyone picking up the book based on that. Meanwhile, other characters take up too much narrative space that would have been better used to flesh out certain other characters, which the blurb feigns to claim are important and make them more believable.
Maybe I was expecting too much, looking for too much comparison with the Winter Night series. But that’s because, on the surface, at least, it is sold as a book worthy of comparison: strong women, Eastern European setting, fantasy, Lords of winter, and it does seem like Novik is trying to imitate Katherine Arden. But no one can be Arden. She explores culture, folklore, fantasy, romance, strong female leads and feminism with detail and a subtleness that leaves you with a strong, lasting impression of them and not feeling bogged down with preachy didacticism. It’s mature, slower and more deliberate to build, exhilarating and beautiful.
Spinning silver is anything but. It’s not horrific- but it’s disappointing to say the very least.