Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Published by: Macmillan
ISBN: 1509899022
ISBN 13: 9781509899029
Published: July 2018
Pages: 448
Format reviewed: Paperback
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: Uprooted (not the same series, but same author, same feel)

Miryem is the daughter of a moneylender, and they’re hated in their small town… even though her father has loaned money to nearly everyone when they were in need, and even though he rarely even tries to collect, they sneer and treat them poorly whenever they’re given the chance. When Miryem’s mother falls ill and is close to death, Miryem takes it upon herself to go to each and every house that owes them to seek a few coins and set everyone up on payment plans. What her father cannot do, she can. And though it worries her parents to see her so cold, she saves their house. If the townspeople are going to hate them anyway, it may as well be with everyone’s money where it should rightfully be.

Miryem does so well that she can hire the help of another girl in the village, Wanda, who suffers an abusive father and is glad to be out of his house. They move up and up in the world, able to do repairs to their little home, and then hire Wanda’s younger brother to look after their new goats to disguise the fact they’re taking them in to be able to feed them properly and escape the wrath of the father.

Soon Miryem is visiting her grandfather who is the best moneylender within reasonable travelling distance and Wanda is able to do simple collecting errands in her absence. Unfortunately the townspeople aren’t the only ones who take notice at Miryem’s ability to turn silver into gold, and she wins the attention of the Staryk, who are the magical race in this book. They bring the winter, they alone travel on the magical silver road (anyone else who wanders onto it are lost), and they seek gold more than anything. The Staryk King turns up to Miryem, stopping time and those around her and able to make them quickly forget any strange brush from their memories within moments, hands her a bag of silver and says he will be back to collect the gold or her life.

Through being canny and understanding those around her, Miryem takes it to Isaac, the jewellery maker who melts the silver down and turns it into an enticing ring, then they take this to the local Duke who buys it immediately for a princely sum.

The problem with this is that the Staryk king rewards one successful deal with another, and then another, and he says for completing all of his tasks he will make her his Queen. Miryem and Isaac make next a necklace, and finally, a crown, and the Duke buys them all. they have a peculiar effect on the mortals around them who become bewitched by the Staryk silver, and the Duke uses all three to make his daughter, Irina, engaging enough for the tsar to want her hand in marriage.

All of these women become POV characters, along with Irini’s nurse, Magreta, and later, a few male characters such as the terrible tsar who was bargained long ago to take in the spirit of a demon who controls him once the sun goes down.

So many paragraphs already and so little of the plot shared… it’s marvelous, truly wonderful. Inspired by the Polish fairytales of her childhood, Novik takes a collection of characters and makes you care deeply about each and every one of them. Somehow, also the tsar. And the Staryk King. And his subjects. And the animals in the winter.

This is another book that I’ll need to buy in the fanciest edition possible just to wrap in plastic and gaze at lovingly for the simple fact it’ll give me joy. And buy multiple copies of to throw at people. It really is just that good.

Review: The Lace Weaver by Lauren Chater

Published by: Simon Schuster Australia
ISBN: 1925596346
ISBN 13: 9781925596342
Published: April 2018
Pages: 400
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five

It’s 1941, Estonia. A terrible time for the people born to the land who are now brutally controlled by Stalin’s soldiers. The rules that govern how they must live are mounting, and the last straw is when Katarina’s family have yet another increase imposed upon them and their small farm. The sheep Katarina must care for is her one joy – not for their company, but for the yarn they produce, with which she knits as her grandmother taught her. Her stitches are careful and the patterns have a long legacy of being passed down through the generations, and now there won’t even be any meagre bits of yarn left over for her precious shawls, and the last link to her beloved grandmother who’s now dead.

Things aren’t any better for Lydia, in Moscow. She finally escapes her uncle’s rule and goes on the run, hoping to find her father and her ties to Estonia, however it’s not exactly a pleasant place to run to. And what anyone ever knows about their family history isn’t always true.

As someone who didn’t learn history in school (something I’ll always be annoyed about), I learn now through historical fiction and I’ll forever be grateful to those who research to these lengths. In this case the author travelled to Estonia and spoke extensively to the people there, and it shows in her writing. The way the time and the place is captured, along with the raw feeling of what they’ve had to experienced is engaging and heartfelt.

Additionally, I connected with this book through the strong thread of knitting, which is important to Katarina, and important to me as one of my most loved hobbies. I don’t think my knitting will ever rival Katarina’s (and power to her for preferring lace – takes so much longer to create with as it creates such tiny stitches), but I loved how vital it was to her ability to cope with the horrors they were experiencing.

This isn’t a joyful book to read – how can such a terrible time be easy – but it is a valuable book to read. It’s especially good to see that this has come from an Australian author. I highly recommend this book for its writing style, and how it captures each and every character so well. With dignity, understanding, and courage.

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Published by: Macmillan
ISBN: 1447298306
ISBN 13: 9781447298304
Published: May 2015
Pages: 438
Format reviewed: Paperback
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: Spinning Silver (not the same series, but same author, same feel)

It’s been almost three years since I read this, so forgive me but I’ll be using the default description rather than my own recount:

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

This was one of my favourite books of the year back in 2015, mostly for Agnieszka who is utterly intelligent and fierce, and manages such utterly magical things. This whole take is wholly feminist, and the magic and the way it works is endlessly fascinating.

The Woods in this book are just as ferocious as we think dragons to be.

No one went into the Wood and came out again, at least not whole and themselves. Sometimes they came out blind and screaming, sometimes they came out twisted and so misshapen they couldn’t be recognized; and worst of all sometimes they came out with their own faces but murder behind them, something gone dreadfully wrong within.

The wizard is so excellent. Agnieszka is so excellent. The tropes we have come to expect – especially from what Disney have done to them – are all turned on their heads and set to us upside-down. And now, trying to review this book three years too late… I think I need a re-read.

Review: The Flowers of Vashnoi by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Spectrum Literary Agency, Inc.
Published: May 2018
Pages: 98
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

The first (and hopefully not last) Vorkosigan that I’m here to read on release! Woo!

We’re back with Ekaterin and Miles. And our favourite scientist Enrique Borgos who has now been successfully married to Martya Koudelka, and we’re able to see the continuing work with the horrible bugs. Yes, I’m firmly on Miles’ side for this one. Though I do like to see the application we see in this book – you remember the little bit of land left to Miles, that he used to gamble in an earlier book; the bit that’s radioactive? Well, Dr Borgos reckons he can engineer bugs that can fix that little issue.

Miles is mostly busy, so it’s up to Ekaterin to keep Borgos company through their business. Miles isn’t happy when it’s discovered that some of the bugs may not be able to be accounted for… considering they’re not able to fly, and should have been restricted to the sealed off radioactive bit… so Ekaterin and Borgos return for a more thorough search and to setup surveillance. And what they find is really quite interesting.

As we’ve already seen in previous books, Bujold continues to explore old fashions and those that continue long after they’re expected – we once saw Miles hold court for the murder of a child that shouldn’t have happened in their day and age… and we see that similar things are still happening in the remote parts of the world. Even as better health care is reaching all corners… in this case, thanks to Miles’ mother. It somehow made people hide all the more.

I do like that we get to see more of Ekaterin, and more interactions with the kids. I really hope we get more books, so we can see their kids, and the royal kids, and all the next generation and how they have their own lives, and get to see Miles and Gregor etc from afar, like we did at the start when we moved from seeing Miles’ parents as the main characters in the first book (in our reading order anyway), and then move to be seen from Miles’ perspective.

A wonderful way to spend my weekend.

Review: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen
ISBN: 1451638450
ISBN 13: 9781451638455
Published: 2012
Pages: 422
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews:Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

So anyone who has been following my reviews of this series will know that I’m quite a fan of Ivan, and I think this book helped me figure out why. I’m not usually one to go for the good looking ones after all…

But first, the story at hand. We’ve left Miles and Ekaterin to go to some far off planet for work, and Ivan himself is a secretary to an admiral, and quite content to not rise much more above the rank of captain; the day is already filled with juggling enough snakes as it is. This is before By gets involved; yet another cousin who Ivan would certainly prefer to see less of, even when they’re to beg him to protect an attractive young woman, and then before he knows it Ivan is tied up in an apartment and perfectly placed to foil a kidnaping attempt.

Tej Arqua and her half-sister Rish are in hiding after the violent over-throw at Jackson’s Whole – though the use of the word ‘violent’ is almost a given, when is any business at the Whole not violent? They’ve lost contact with the rest of their sizeable family, and are ready to throw themselves off the balcony rather than be taken captive until Ivan begs them to give him a chance at giving them other options than death.

Together with By and dodging any unfortunate questions that may be asked at work or of the Barrayan work unit itself while they’re on Komarr, Ivan knows that he has to get both Tej and Rish off the planet, and, if possible, back to Barrayar where he has connections and protection. And what best than being married to a Barrayan and therefore a citizen? So then suddenly Ivan has a wife, and Tej is now Lady Vorpatril.

And I love it. We get to see how outsiders view Gregor, Simon, and all the rest – and how normal they all seem to Ivan. I always forgot just how close to the throne he was and yet never wanted it, and that’s what I like about him. Miles and everyone else were always trying to prove themselves, either to themselves or those around them, and Ivan is just content as is – yet he also works hard, and is passionate about Barrayar and so on – he’s not lazy and wishing he could just live a life of luxury.

I love the scenes we get of Simon in this. And even that we get to know By a little more, and how he is with Rish. And I love Rish. And all of them, really.

Apologies for the short review and if there’s any weird words. I almost have pneumonia and not currently getting enough oxygen according to doctor, and what do I do? I leave my humid home in the tropics and travel to Melbourne where they’re going to get a month worth of rain and hail in the next two days. And I went out shopping all morning. I’m super smart!