Uprooted and Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik

I put these two books together even though, despite the similar cover design as you see above, one is not a sequel to the other nor are they even specifically set in the same universe. Rather, I’d say they have the same flavour — fantasies very loosely based on fairy tales, deeply rooted in Eastern European culture and folktales (and, in the case of Spinning Silver, specifically Eastern European Jewish culture).

Uprooted is a Beauty-and-the-Beast style tale of Agnieska, a young village girl who is chosen by “the Dragon” — not an actual dragon, but a wizard who lives in a tower and, once every ten years, chooses a young girl to come live with him and serve him. Agnieska and everyone else in town has always assumed her beautiful friend Kasia will be the one chosen for those unwelcome honour, but instead it’s Agnieska who gets plucked out of her life and put in the tower, only to learn that she has unsuspected magical powers of her own.

Spinning Silver is the story of three young women — a Jewish moneylender’s daughter named Miryem, a poor peasant girl named Wanda, and a noblewoman named Irina — whose fates come together to defeat both a powerful ice-spirit that’s holding their land captive to winter, and a vicious fire-demon that has possessed the most powerful person in the land. I liked both these books a lot, but Spinning Silver was my favourite of the two — I loved the way the three characters’ stories wove together, and I loved the emphasis on the importance of kinship and community as the powerful bonds that people need in order to fight evil. Each of these three women is powerful and yet believable in her own way, and each has a key role to play in defeating evil forces and saving their community. While the Rumplestiltskin legend about spinning straw into gold is the inspiration that sparks this story, this is a much bigger and more interesting story than that one fairy tale, and I found it an intriguing read from start to finish.

The only book by Naomi Novik I’d read before was the first book in the Temeraire series, which my husband loved and still counts among his favourite fantasy series, but which didn’t really grab me or draw me in. However, I found these absoutely fascinating and loved Novik’s writing in both Uprooted and Spinning Silver.

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