A medieval fable of obscure moral import blossoms into a thoughtful, emotionally complex, absorbing drama that stands...

SPINNING SILVER

From the author of Uprooted (2015), the splendid Temeraire Napoleonic Wars–and-dragons series, etc., this reworked fairy tale’s opening sentence might well have read Once upon a time in Old Lithuania....

Expanding a recent short story based on “Rumpelstiltskin,” Novik weaves in other elements of Eastern European folklore along with some fine original flourishes. Miryem, the granddaughter of affluent Jewish moneylenders, takes over her incompetent father’s failing business affairs. Channeling anger and frustration into business acumen, she collects the debts that are owed, accepting goods or services as well as coin. In this and other ways, Miryem turns copper and silver into gold. Unfortunately, gold attracts the attention of the Staryk, coldhearted fairies who occasionally intrude into the human world, bringing with them forgetfulness and a breath of winter. One such gives Miryem fairy silver, ordering her to change it into gold. Fairy silver, Miryem finds, is so beautiful that it fetches huge sums in gold, especially when made into jewelry magnificent enough to intrigue the Duke. Miryem slowly grasps that she’s made a bargain with the Staryk: He will make her his queen if she succeeds in spinning a vast pile of silver into gold—and freeze her solid if she fails. She has no wish to marry him but also notices that the Staryk do not particularly value gold in itself—so why do they want such large quantities of it? In spare prose of great clarity Novik weaves in and out of multiple first-person narratives in sometimes-illuminating, sometimes-disconcerting or confusing ways, exploring human and alien social structures and ethnic prejudices, fathers and daughters, damaged relationships and hidden agendas, wringing unexpected consequences from seemingly simple choices.

A medieval fable of obscure moral import blossoms into a thoughtful, emotionally complex, absorbing drama that stands confidently on its own merits.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-18098-9

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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THE NIGHT CIRCUS

Self-assured, entertaining debut novel that blends genres and crosses continents in quest of magic.

The world’s not big enough for two wizards, as Tolkien taught us—even if that world is the shiny, modern one of the late 19th century, with its streetcars and electric lights and newfangled horseless carriages. Yet, as first-time novelist Morgenstern imagines it, two wizards there are, if likely possessed of more legerdemain than true conjuring powers, and these two are jealous of their turf. It stands to reason, the laws of the universe working thus, that their children would meet and, rather than continue the feud into a new generation, would instead fall in love. Call it Romeo and Juliet for the Gilded Age, save that Morgenstern has her eye on a different Shakespearean text, The Tempest; says a fellow called Prospero to young magician Celia of the name her mother gave her, “She should have named you Miranda...I suppose she was not clever enough to think of it.” Celia is clever, however, a born magician, and eventually a big hit at the Circus of Dreams, which operates, naturally, only at night and has a slightly sinister air about it. But what would you expect of a yarn one of whose chief setting-things-into-action characters is known as “the man in the grey suit”? Morgenstern treads into Harry Potter territory, but though the chief audience for both Rowling and this tale will probably comprise of teenage girls, there are only superficial genre similarities. True, Celia’s magical powers grow, and the ordinary presto-change-o stuff gains potency—and, happily, surrealistic value. Finally, though, all the magic has deadly consequence, and it is then that the tale begins to take on the contours of a dark thriller, all told in a confident voice that is often quite poetic, as when the man in the grey suit tells us, “There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict.” Generous in its vision and fun to read. Likely to be a big book—and, soon, a big movie, with all the franchise trimmings.

 

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-385-53463-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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