Spinning Silver

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Spinning Silver
Spinning Silver.jpg
AuthorNaomi Novik
CountryUnited States
Media typePrint (hardcover)

Spinning Silver is a 2018 fantasy novel written by Naomi Novik.[1] The novel is loosely based on the tale of Rumpelstiltskin. Novik originally published a portion of the novel in The Starlit Wood anthology in 2016 and later expanded it into a novel.[2]


In a small unnamed village a young Jewish girl named Miryem lives with her father, who works as a money lender, and her mother. Her father is unsuccessful at recouping his money forcing her and her mother to live in poverty much to the shame of her maternal grandfather, who is also a moneylender. When Miryem is 16 her mother becomes deathly ill and Miryem begins to work as a moneylender herself, recouping the debts owed to her father. She is incredibly successful at recouping money or obtaining goods which she can turn into cash. Miryem also has one of the local village girls, Wanda come to work for her to pay off her drunken father's debts.

One day Miryem boasts of being able to turn silver into gold. She is overheard by a Staryk, one of the magical men who live in the forest and who rape and plunder for gold. A Staryk leaves a bag of silver for Miryem intending for her to convert it into gold coins and Miryem goes to her grandfather's city and has her cousin's betrothed, a jeweller, convert it into a ring, which they sell to the duke. Miryem is asked by the lord Staryk to convert silver into gold twice more which results in a necklace and a crown, all three items imbued with magical powers.

The duke intends to use the magic silver jewellery to convince the tsar, Mirnatius, to marry his daughter. To his surprise Mirnatius does not seem enchanted by the magic jewellery yet nevertheless readily agrees to marry Irina who is otherwise not rich, powerful or beautiful.

Miryem, who has succeeded in spinning silver into gold is taken away by her Staryk who reluctantly pledges to marry her and make her his queen. In the Staryk kingdom she realizes that rather than simply bargaining her way into gold she actually has the power to turn silver into gold. Nevertheless reluctant to be the Staryk's bride she bargains with him so that they will not have to consummate their marriage.

After Miryem is forced to leave, Wanda's father also tries to force her into marriage. When she protests her father tries to beat her and when her younger brothers intervene they accidentally kill their father. Horrified by what has happened and knowing that they could be punished even though the murder was in self-defense, the siblings split up with the youngest being sent by Wanda to Miryem's parents. Wanda and her older brother eventually end up in a witch's cottage and are eventually joined by Miryem's parents, the Mandelstams and their younger brother, on their way to Miryem's cousin's wedding.

Meanwhile Irina realizes that the silver jewellery gives her the power to walk through mirrors (in part due to distant Staryk blood). Each night she flees her bed chamber and learns that Mirnatius is enslaved by a powerful fire demon who asked him to marry Irina so that he could consume and kill her. Confused by Irina's ability to disappear at night Mirnatius has Irina's childhood nanny brought to the castle intending to threaten to harm her so that Irina will submit. Instead Irina is able to bring her nanny with her through the mirror. On the other side of the mirror she meets Miryem, now the Staryk queen, who is miserable in her role and who is treated poorly by the Staryk despite her ability to turn silver into gold. Irina tells Miryem how her husband wants to kill her since she has Staryk blood and it will help to soothe his demon's fire and Miryem realizes her equally awful husband is ice cold. The two women make a plan to feed the Staryk king to the fire demon.

Irina fools her husband the tsar into believing that her powers are more potent than they appear and strikes a bargain with the fire demon that he will leave her unharmed as long as she feeds him the Staryk king. More politically savvy than her vain and spoiled husband she arranges for the bridal party to return to her father's kingdom. To trick her husband into returning to the mortal realm, Miryem tells her husband that she promised her cousin she would dance at her wedding. The Staryk king promises to allow Miryem to return to earth if she can convert the silver in three of his chambers to gold. Mireym agrees only to realize there is too much gold to convert. However she tricks her husband by having her servants empty out one of the rooms therefore fulfilling her promise.

The Staryk king takes Miryem to her cousin's wedding where he is attacked by Mirnatius's demon, the Chernobog. The Staryk is much stronger than the Chernobog, however Wanda, her brothers and the Mandelstams help to bind the Staryk with silver and Irina binds him with magic and locks him in an abandoned tower so the Chernobog will be able to feast on him. Miryem quickly grows to regret what she has done as she realizes the Staryk king's death will also mean the death of his people. Irina also regrets what she has done as she realizes that Mirnatius did not bargain away his soul for the tsar title but instead was what his mother bargained with. Irina also realizes that the Chernobog will eventually come to eat her and her people after he is done with the Staryks and makes him promise that he will leave her and her people alone in exchange for what she has done.

Miryem sneaks into the abandoned tower where the Staryk is kept and frees him in exchange for his promise that he will not bring winter to her world or hunt and kill humans anymore. Nevertheless he is gravely injured in their escape. Meanwhile the Chernobog goes to Irina, angry that the Staryk king has escaped leading Irina to bring him through a mirror into the Staryk world where he begins to kill Staryks. With the Staryk king's world dying and his own powers weakening he is stuck in Miryem's world until they go to the witch's cottage and manage to find an entry way into his world. Once there his powers begin to return and he fights the Chernobog. When it seems as though the Chernobog cannot be defeated Miryem lures him to the mountain where she and her servants dumped the chamber of Staryk silver. She then turns it to gold and the sunlit brightness of the gold weakens the Chernobog. He returns through the mirror to the human world where he realizes that he cannot hurt humans as Irina is tsarina and all the people in the kingdom belong to her. When he tries to re-enter Mirnatius's body he learns that Irina has claimed him as well.

Miryem stays with the Staryks until winter in her world begins. When the Staryk king returns her he offers to court her with jewels but she refuses, telling if he wants to court her he must do it according to her own customs. Two weeks later they have a Jewish wedding.


The novel was widely praised upon its release. Choire Sicha writing for The New York Times called the novel "a perfect tale about the songs of ice and fire."[1] Vox called Novik "one of the definitive YA voices of her era."[3]


  1. ^ a b Sicha, Choire. "Rumpelstiltskin Redux". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  2. ^ Murad, Mahvesh. "Unweaving a Fairy Tale: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik". Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  3. ^ Grady, Constance. "With Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik cements her status as one of the great YA fantasy authors". Retrieved 5 December 2018.