It is magic that makes a tale a fairy tale, but it takes a writing magician to make a fairy tale that “grown-ups” can believe in. That is what Naomi Novik does in Spinning Silver.
This is a story in which three extraordinary women emerge from the ordinary women everyone believes them to be using their wits and ingenuity. Of course, women cannot really achieve great things and, so, when they do, it must be magic. One woman saves her family from poverty by taking up her father’s and grandfather’s role as a moneylender. Her reputation that she can turn silver into gold attracts the attention of a king who needs her “magic” to save his kingdom. Another woman saves the people of her country from a monster living within her husband, the Tsar. The third saves her own brothers from their wretched father.
The men in their lives – the king who takes the “spinner” as a wife to save his kingdom, the demon who would devour everything and the father who would starve his children – make bargains with the women that are kept, except they are not kept with the hatred offered but with the love that women the world over use to care for their families. And that love, as some of the men will learn, will defeat any great power. Magic!
Novik’s writing is mesmerizing, magical, but the lines I will copy out are those that remind the reader that the magic these three women wrought is the same as that wrought by every woman:
“You have fed each other, and you kept the wolf away. That is all we can do for each other in the world, to keep the wolf away.”
(Note: I read the 2018 Random House Edition of this book.)