Anna Campbell

May 2019


My Book of the Year for 2018 Is…

It seems strange to be talking about the book of the year in May! But if you’ve been following the My Favorite Things columns recently you’ll know that this month’s piece is the climax to a series on great books I read last year. And lucky for me, there were lots of them!

But despite how good all those others were, and check out my columns to see how good they really are, there was one book that was an absolute standout for me. It’s Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, a standalone fairytale fantasy from 2018 with elements of Rumpelstiltskin, in that the heroine has the ability to spin gold out of straw. Or at least that’s what gossip says about her.

What’s interesting to me is that the much stronger mythical connection is with the Persephone Myth. Because of her supposed magical gifts, Miryem, the Russian-Jewish heroine, is snatched away from the real world into the icy realms of the ruthless, murderous Staryk where she finds love and danger and events and people that challenge her every preconception.

At first, her master, the Staryk king, seems like a devil indeed, Pluto in his darkest guise, even if portrayed in silver and white to match his freezing dominion. But could he be a hero in disguise, one with a powerful agenda a mere human girl cannot understand on first meeting him?

One of the joys of the story is watching as first impressions change and unlikely heroes and heroines emerge. None of the characters are what they seem at first. Or in fact what they believe themselves to be.

This theme of unlikely or reluctant heroes and heroines shines in the second strand of the story, about an unpromising and unappreciated Russian princess who finds greatness when she has to save her unruly kingdom from a fire demon.

These two plots end up intertwining in such a clever, complex manner, I was breathless with excitement to see such skilled manipulation of the elements of structure.

The climax is one of the best I’ve ever read – I think I told you some of the fantasy novels I’ve read this year are great until…they’re not. But this one keeps building and building, and after that, there’s a perfect, satisfying ending that had me closing the book with a smile and the regret that I couldnt read Spinning Silver for the first time all over again.

I will definitely read this book again. The use of folk tale and mythology is so clever, I’m sure I missed things first time around. And I loved, loved, loved so many of the characters, from brave, stubborn Miryem, to Irina the duke’s daughter who has no idea of who strong she really is, to Miryem’s wonderfully warm Jewish parents, to the people and creatures Miryem meets in the alien, at first alienating Staryk kingdom. This was a book I still think about and it’s getting on for a year since I read it.

Beautifully written, magical in every sense, intriguing, unusual, heartfelt, exciting, exotic, brimming with sumptuous and fascinating details. I could go on listing adjectives in praise of Spinning Silver, but why read my words when you can read this brilliant book? Seriously, don’t wait. Grab it now!