Spinning Silver

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Spinning Silver
Spinning Silver.jpg
First edition (US)
AuthorNaomi Novik
CountryUnited States
PublisherDel Rey Books (US)
Macmillan (UK)
Media typePrint (hardcover)

Spinning Silver is a 2018 fantasy novel written by Naomi Novik.[1] Novik originally published a short story called "Spinning Silver" in The Starlit Wood anthology in 2016 and later expanded it into a novel.[2] Spinning Silver won the American Library Association's Alex Award in 2019,[3] the 2019 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel,[4] and the 2019 Audie Award for Fantasy.[5] Spinning Silver was a 2019 Hugo Award for Best Novel Nominee, a 2018 finalist for the Nebula Award for Best Novel, and a 2019 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fantasy. The novel is loosely based on the tale of Rumpelstiltskin and explores how debt and gratitude shape relationships.[6]

Plot summary[edit]

The story of Spinning Silver unfolds in the voices of several characters, but primarily in the voices of three young women who struggle against strong evil forces, in an imaginary medieval eastern European kingdom called Lithvas.[7]

Miryem Mandelstam, the daughter of a poor Jewish moneylender in the kingdom of Lithvas, takes over her father Josef’s business. A village girl, Wanda, becomes the family’s servant to pay off her father’s debt after her mother dies, and Wanda becomes close with the family. One night Miryem, flush with her success, brags to her mother Rakhel that she can “turn silver into gold”. Her boast is overheard by the Staryk, a race of fae creatures who emerge from their own world every winter to raid human settlements, and Miryem receives three deliveries of magical silver. Realizing that the Staryk will kill her if she does not give them gold in exchange, she has the metal made into three pieces of jewellery to sell. Each time, the king of the Staryk appears to Miryem and takes gold from the sale of the items. However, after the sale of the second piece, Miryem demands to know what the Staryk will give her for her work; to Miryem’s horror, he tells her that after the third, he will marry her.

The jewellery, which makes its wearer appear captivatingly beautiful, is bought by the duke of the city of Vysnia for his daughter, Irina. Mirnatius, the cruel, handsome tsar of Lithvas, is due to visit, and the duke hopes to trick him into marrying Irina. Though Irina herself does not wish to wed Mirnatius, he proposes and she is obliged to accept.

The Staryk king arrives to marry Miryem, and she begs him to leave. Although the king is also displeased, he tells her that oathbreaking is the worst possible crime among his people, and abducts her to his kingdom.

That same evening, Wanda goes to her father's house, and he begins to beat her in a drunken rage. Her brothers Sergey and Stepon come to her defense, and their father is accidentally killed in the ensuing fight. The two older siblings send Stepon to the Mandelstams’ home and flee into the woods.

On her wedding night, Irina discovers that while wearing her Staryk jewellery, she can step through any reflective surface into the Staryk kingdom and magically observe her husband. She learns that Mirnatius has a contract with Chernobog, a demon of flame who gives the tsar magical powers but also torments him. Chernobog drinks human souls and has forced Mirnatius to marry Irina, who has Staryk ancestry, out of a desire to drink her magic. Each evening when the sun sets, Irina hides from Mirnatius, as the demon hates sunlight and can only emerge at night.

In the Staryk world, Miryem learns that she can literally change silver into gold with a touch. She also discovers that the Staryk king is responsible for lengthening the winters in Lithvas, and that it is his desire to make them permanent. Although she hates the king and wishes to go home, Miryem comes to know and care for some of the Staryk; she also sees that their kingdom is suffering mysterious damages. While out exploring, Miryem encounters Irina. The two women create a plan to bring their husbands together, in the hopes that the Staryk and the demon will destroy one another.

Because Miryem cannot cross to the human world alone, she bargains with the king: he will take her to attend her cousin’s wedding in Vysnia if she can transform three of his enormous vaults of silver within three days. She succeeds, barely, with the help of her servants. While the couple are travelling to Lithvas, the king reveals that with every transformation, Miryem has been unwittingly transferring warmth and sunlight out of the mortal world.

Rakhel, Josef, and Stepon also set out to travel to Vysnia for the wedding. However, they become lost in the woods due to a snowstorm along the way and stumble across the abandoned house where Wanda and Sergey have been living. Wanda and Sergey are persuaded to go to the city with the Mandelstams.

Chernobog promises that, in exchange for Irina giving him the Staryk king, he will never harm her or anyone she cares about. She then takes him to the wedding, where he confronts the king. Although most of the guests run away, Miryem’s parents and the orphaned siblings stay to help Miryem and Irina. The demon and the mortals fight the king, bind him, and take him to a hidden prison cell, allowing Chernobog to begin slowly consuming the Staryk’s magical soul night by night.

Irina develops sympathy for Mirnatius when he reveals that his contract with Chernobog was not of his own making. His mother, the previous tsar’s second wife, was a witch who promised her firstborn child to the demon in exchange for “beauty, power, and a throne”. All of these were owed to Mirnatius after his mother was executed, so the demon arranged the death of Mirnatius's father and half-brother, though Mirnatius himself never desired to become tsar.

Once the king is bound, spring arrives immediately, to the joy of Lithvas's citizens. Irina arranges a pardon and a land grant for Wanda and her brothers; they decide that they and the Mandelstams will go back to live in the abandoned house and make of it a refuge for anyone in need.

Although she shares in her people’s happiness, Miryem is troubled to realize that the fae kingdom and its inhabitants, including those who helped her, will all be destroyed as Chernobog drains the king. She goes to her husband and learns that, while the Staryk have always been a bane to humanity, they began trying to exterminate Lithvas only after Mirnatius became tsar. With the demonic influence on the throne, the magical connection between the fae and human kingdoms caused the weakening of the Staryk world, so the king created the supernatural winters to defend it. Miryem frees the king after extracting a promise that the killing winters and the raiding of human settlements will end, in exchange for her help in defeating Chernobog.

Chernobog, alerted to the king’s escape by the sudden return of winter, threatens to kill Irina until she offers to take him through her mirror to the Staryk kingdom. There, he begins to ravage the palace until Miryem and the king arrive. Miryem lures Chernobog into the king’s treasury, and once he is surrounded by silver, she turns it into gold. Unable to bear the touch of solid sunlight on his skin, Chernobog flees back to the human world.

In the mortal lands, the demon attempts to turn on Irina, but finds himself powerless when she reminds him of the bargain they have struck: he must not harm her or anyone of hers. As tsarina, she counts all the people of Lithvas as hers - including the tsar, as a wife’s claim supersedes a mother’s. Thus forced from his mortal host, Chernobog reverts to a being of pure flame, which a scullery maid extinguishes with a bucket of sand.

As spring has returned to Lithvas, Miryem is obliged to remain in the Staryk kingdom for six months, until winter comes again. Nevertheless, she finds work and a sense of belonging there in restoring the kingdom. On the day of the first snow, Miryem returns to the human world and the home that her family have established. Miryem is saddened to leave behind the bonds of affection she has formed in the Staryk world, including with the king; however, she is then astonished when the king asks her parents for leave to court her. She informs him that she will only agree to be courted and married according to Jewish custom, to which he consents, and the pair are wed two weeks later.


The novel was widely praised upon its release, and was a finalist for the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Novel.[8] The New York Times called it "a perfect tale about the songs of ice and fire."[1] Vox called Novik "one of the definitive YA voices of her era."[9]


  1. ^ a b Sicha, Choire. "Rumpelstiltskin Redux". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  2. ^ Jackson, Frannie (July 10, 2018). "Naomi Novik Talks Spinning Silver, Her Rumpelstiltskin-Inspired Novel". Paste Magazine. Retrieved March 9, 2020. Uprooted is very much about my mother’s side of the family, who were Polish Catholics…Spinning Silver is about my father’s family, and they were Lithuanian Jews who had to escape persecution—not just from the Nazis, but from their own neighbors.
  3. ^ "Spinning Silver | Awards & Grants". www.ala.org. Retrieved 2020-07-03.
  4. ^ locusmag (2019-06-29). "2019 Locus Awards Winners". Locus Online. Retrieved 2019-07-03.
  5. ^ "Spinning Silver". www.goodreads.com. Retrieved 2020-07-03.
  6. ^ Fictions, © 2019 Science; America, Fantasy Writers of; SFWA®, Inc; Fiction, Nebula Awards® are registered trademarks of Science; America, Fantasy Writers of; SFWA, Inc Opinions expressed on this web site are not necessarily those of. "Spinning Silver". The Nebula Awards®. Retrieved 2020-07-03.
  7. ^ Murad, Mahvesh (July 10, 2018). "Unweaving a Fairy Tale: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik". Retrieved March 9, 2020. Novik employs multiple narrative voices in Spinning Silver, a number of perspectives making up this deftly woven and highly immersive fairy tale, with all threads connecting eventually in a satisfying way. The primary voices are of three young women—Miryem, Wanda, and Irina—each with her own fate to rewrite.
  8. ^ 2019 Hugo Award & 1944 Retro Hugo Award Finalists, by Cheryl Morgan, at TheHugoAwards.org retrieved June 7, 2019
  9. ^ Grady, Constance. "With Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik cements her status as one of the great YA fantasy authors". Retrieved 5 December 2018.