Since I was so disappointed with Uprooted, I wondered if Spinning Silver was going to hold up to a re-read. To my surprise, it did. This time, I figured out exactly what in it appeals to me: it’s the romance. No, no, wait, come back, I didn’t mean it that way, really, honest! I like action, I like fight scenes! I do! Honest! Come baaaaack….!
You see, it’s a simple theme: Beauty tames Beast. Miryem, after a rough start with the hero, establishes herself as his equal, tempers his disdain, and wins his respect and full affection. But: she doesn’t do in the usual way–by virtue, patience, and passive strength of will. She does it by taking action and forcing the belligerent male to acknowledge her worth. She’s a competent, active heroine and she gets a heroine’s role—saving the day—and a heroine’s reward.
This said, my initial complaints remain and are even intensified. Writing a fairy tale is good. Writing a fantasy political thriller is good. Writing a romance is good. Tying them together is cool. Having the ability to weave them seamlessly and effortlessly into a story that fits, flows, portrays, entertains, and enlightens? Is just tantalizingly beyond Novik’s reach.
There is—not at all in the whole!—but at just enough points to prevent the book from becoming truly excellent: Insufficient character motivations and a poorly paced climax with insufficient action (but what there was, was well-written and exciting, I will be fair), were already pointed out in my previous review. Adding to this is: inconsistency and oversimplification of characters where more complexity would have helped.
Writing the Staryk king inconsistently weakens the romance (cough), and it weakens the narrative. A clever heroine needs a strong hero–and the Staryk is not…until suddenly he is. This inconsistency is a problem. At a climactic turning point, it is revealed that the Staryk King is not a petulant bully bent on destroying humanity in eternal winter. Instead, he is shown to be noble, valorous, dedicated to his people–willing to sacrifice his life’s blood through slow torture to protect them. This guy is a hero (who happens to be on the opposite side, which is really one of the best kinds of heroes: you get more emotional torque, more conflict, more doubt and heartache, and a more complex plot).
Thing is: there was no hint of this guy beforehand.
And this weakens the narrative in several ways.
It makes Miryem’s change of heart less immediately believable. Certainly, her main concern is for the Staryk people, especially the three she has personally befriended, but failing to make a connection, even a grudging or tenuous one, with the guy she must spare no physical, mental, or emotional efforts to rescue and restore to health, (like my sentence structure? The grading rubric didn’t) is a failure on the author’s part.
Then, as noted above–it could have added a great deal of emotional torque, complexity, all that good stuff, etc, to the story. Betraying a bad man you were forced to marry is much easier than betraying one you respect. It’s almost always more interesting to have more conflict rather than less, and it’s always better to have more anguish. (OK, my computer crashed three separate times while I was writing this last paragraph. I’ll take that as a sign to wrap up.)
And finally, Miryem’s position is weakened when the Staryk is suddenly elevated. When he starts talking about resisting eternal torment–and means it–when he refuses to escape without the Lady to whom he has pledged–and means it–and when he talks about his duty to the lives of his people, Miryem has no acceptable rebuttals to give. She’s reduced to responding as petulantly as he had to her, earlier. It’s annoying when it could be epic.
To wrap up: I think “epic” is the best descriptor an author should aim for, and the highest praise. Whatever level you are on, aim higher. Shoot for a broader scope. Deeper worldbuilding. More heart-wrenching romance. More dangerous combat and dazzling action. More incisive and intelligent points of view. And better vocabulary. I still quite like this book and will probably read it over again many times–but I’m also planning to learn from its failures.
Rated: all things told, Granny Weatherwax’s hut is probably cooler than the unnamed sorceress’s….