Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It's been almost two weeks since I read this and I'm still struggling to write a review for it. Let me see if I can get my feelings down today.
Spinning Silver is one of my most anticipated books of 2018. The problem with hyped books or ones I'm dying to read is that my expectations are so much higher than they would be for most other books or authors. Naomi Novik has set a precedent for herself that is probably unfair for me to use as a benchmark. Let's face it if we all reviewed books based on our ultimate favourites most great books wouldn't get five stars because they weren't amazing. You know? So my rating of Spinning Silver for 5 stars is based off how I would rate it if it wasn't Novik or someone equally as amazing.
The First Half
I adored the first half of Spinning Silver. The use of the premise from Rumplestiltskin is so clever that if you didn't know that story fairly well you'd likely think Novik came up with the idea all on her. Certainly she makes it her own inside of the world she has built.
I know many want to know if this is the same 'world' as Uprooted and I would confidently say that it could be. It's never alluded to (at least that I caught) that it is but the style, setting, magic, etc. all fits into the Uprooted setting. These could certainly be places on opposite sides of a continent that are in the same general world of each other.
As always the characters that Novik brings to life are superb. All three of our main girls are interesting and relatable (if not always likeable). I was less drawn to the 'duchess' character than to our other two gals, who are peasant girls. I think because the other two girls had to work sooo hard for everything they had; and I gotta say I respect that strength in them. There are male characters as well including an ice king and a little boy. I liked Novik's use of the little boy to tell the more gruesome parts of the story. This is always smart (I think) by authors as showing a difficult scene without it being totally gory and horrifying (even if in reality it would be) through the eyes of a child tones down the moment. Or at least allows the descriptions to be simpler.
The Second Half
I'll admit I lost a lot of interest in the last half of this book. Now this could be because there was a lot going on in my personal life; but I think it was more that I was getting tired of trying to figure out whose perspective we were hearing from and keeping our girls all separate. The three gals are different but at the same time their 'tone' or 'expression' of narrating the story were almost identical. This meant that, because there are no names to chapter or perspective breaks, that it sometimes took me a couple sentences to figure out what character I was seeing the story from.
This felt like a lot of work. In a few cases (especially once there were multiple sets of similar settings at one time) I got so confused I had to re-read a section. I'd like to think I'm a more attentive reader (and smart enough) than to have issues with a well written change of perspective. I think that some of the transitions were lazy and that is what caused the problem. It wasn't enough to deter me from loving the story or the lyrical way in which Novik tells it. But it was enough that I noticed it and was mildly annoyed.
The second major flaw of Spinning Silver (after the perspective swapping issue above) is that there were too many endings. I call this the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) ending syndrome. Novik is far from the first to fall subject to this issue. It's very common amongst writers who have lots of complex and important characters in their book. The syndrome is that the reader feels like the story is over long before the actual book is. The climax of this book is easily 100 pages before the actual last page of writing. Which meant that there were multiple scenes of 'ending' but not 'ending' and just too much that happened after. Like LOTR the secondary conflict and 'climax' wasn't as good as the first (think Scouring of the Shore following the Battle at Minas Tirith) which caused me to be fatigued by the story and characters near the end.
Additionally the last moment in the book made no sense to me whatsoever. I didn't feel like there hadn't been enough leading up to that point to compel a character to make the decision she makes. But maybe I missed some subtle cues during the last 100 pages as I was tuned out of the story to some degree.
Naomi Novik is an amazing author and my criticisms above I would mention and glance over in most other authors works. That is why I kept my rating at 5 stars. I will still purchase this book in trade paperback and proudly display it on my print bookshelf. I am very picky about what goes in the physical book collection these days due to space and cost so the highest compliment to a book I can give is to add it to my library.
I think my critiques of where Spinning Silver could have been better have more to do with expecting something beyond amazing out of it and less to do with them really being all that bad. And let's face it I love LOTR, so the syndrome I associate with it is clearly not a deal breaker.
I can't wait for the next 'fairy tale' story Novik gives to us. I'm hoping she will keep the fairy tales unique and entirely her own as she has done to date with Uprooted and Spinning Silver.
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