Spinning Silver - original fairy tale fantasy
It seems like fairy tale fantasy is everywhere these days, but with Spinning Silver Novik gives the nod to a few tropes while delivering an entirely original fantasy about three young women who defy the odds to save their land. Polish Novik sets her tale in a slavik inspired land starving under the encroaching ice of the inhuman Staryk, stag riding warriors of ice who raid the human lands for gold and killing all in their way. Under the rule of a dissolute young Tsar, rumored to be an evil sorcerer, the nobility are too busy plotting rebellion to care what conditions are for the peasantry. It's left to the daughters of a village moneylender, an abusive drunk, and wealthy duke to save those they care about.
These three daughters have nothing left to lose. Miryem lives in a village within sight of the supernatural Staryk road. Her moneylender father is so meek and mild that he never insists on repayment of the loans. With the family is on the verge of starvation, and her mother deathly ill, Miryem hardens herself against the neighbors and begins collecting what is owed. Wanda's life is a different story where her father beats her and her younger brothers on their poor farm. Since he drinks away all their money, Miryem insists that Wanda work off his debt as her servant. For Wanda this is a dream job as she avoids her father all day, gets real meals, and gradually starts earning her own money unbeknownst to her father. She only hopes to save up enough to go away with her brothers. All is going well until Miryem's reputation for turning silver into gold catches the attention of the Staryk. To meet their demands she sells their enchanted silver to the local duke who hopes to use it to adorn his plain daughter Irina so that she catches the eye of the Tsar. Irina has known since childhood that rumor is right to name the Tsar a sorcerer, so when her father's plan is wildly successful, she and Miryem collude to set the Staryk King and demonic Tsar against each other, while Wanda flees an accusation of murder.
Spinning Silver begins as a simple story with a few fairy tale elements before it branches into three compelling interwoven stories which are then turned on end. The plot is therefore more complex and better developed than is usually seen in this sub-genre. Add in the well developed world plus the theme of female independence and empowerment and this is a satisfying read. If you read and enjoyed The Goblin Emperor by Addison, Tooth and Claw from Walton, or Summers at Castle Auburn by Shinn this is another you'll like.
Naomi Novik is best known for the award winning Temeraire series about the British dragon aerial corps during the Napoleanic Wars. If you somehow missed that chapter in the history books but enjoy gunpowder fantasy its a good choice beginning with His Majesty's Dragon. Her first fairy-ish fantasy is called Uprooted which I liked but not as well as Spinning Silver. In general Novik's writing has gone from decent with great ideas in her earlier books to fully developed here in Silver.
The audio book narrated by Lisa Flanagan was also highly rated.