by Gennifer Albin
October 16, 2012
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux (BYR)
Source: E-ARC via NetGalley
That’s what the other girls whisper behind her back. But sixteen year-old Adelice Lewys has a secret: she wants to fail.
Gifted with the ability to weave time with matter, she’s exactly what the Guild is looking for, and in the world of Arras, being chosen as a Spinster is everything a girl could want. It means privilege, eternal beauty, and being something other than a secretary. It also means the power to embroider the very fabric of life. But if controlling what people eat, where they live and how many children they have is the price of having it all, Adelice isn’t interested.
Not that her feelings matter, because she slipped and wove a moment at testing, and they’re coming for her—tonight.
Now she has one hour to eat her mom’s overcooked pot roast. One hour to listen to her sister’s academy gossip and laugh at her Dad’s stupid jokes. One hour to pretend everything’s okay. And one hour to escape.
Because once you become a Spinster, there’s no turning back. (Goodreads summary.)
My Take On It
The premise of Crewel, a world where women known as Spinsters create by weaving time with matter totally intrigued me when I read about it a few months back. In many ways it reminded me of a book I read a few years ago called Solstice Woods by Patricia McKillip. That work is actually a fantasy with a faery storyline interwoven, but both works share a common thread (oh gosh, I predict a review RIDDLED with sewing/ weaving analogies, SORRY!) both works use weaving/ stitching/ fiber arts as a central theme. It's hard to say why this appeals to me so. I don't crochet, knit, quilt or anything like that. But maybe it is because my grandmother and her mother before her were both masters with a crochet needle. Some of my most prized possessions are afghans that my grandmother crocheted for me and my boys before she passed away. I think what I like is the 'sewing circle' concept. A group of women who gather to create and use this time to chat, gossip, and share stories. It's a woman thing, as sewing and stitching has traditionally been viewed as women's work. And it has a strong history. Think about all those historical fiction and high fantasy works that feature women and ladies in waiting sitting around cross stitching and embroidering. My blogger friend Jen pointed out in her review of Crewel that the theme of weaving can be traced back to the ancient Greek myths and works of literature (The Three Fates and Odyessius' wife Penelope.) Well, whatever the reason, I was excited to receive an e-galley of Crewel and was pretty wowed by the book overall.
Crewel starts off with a bang and a sense of foreboding when our heroine Adelice fails the testing that all girls of Arras undergo when they turn sixteen. The test is a search for young women who have the ability to create by weaving time and matter together. It's a skill that only a few possess and one highly sought after by the Guild, a group pf men who essentially act as the governing body of Adelice's world. The first chapter has Adelice basically saying her own silent goodbye's to her mother, father and younger sister, knowing that by nightfall the Guild will be coming for her. The tension builds and takes a violent and somewhat unexpected turn when Adelice's parents do the unthinkable: they try to hide their daughter to prevent the Guild from taking her. As these events unfold we learn through the narration of Adelice why her parents worked so hard to hide Adelice's abilities. Once the Guild get it's claws in you, there is no turning back.
A lot of the reviews I have read of Crewel are mixed when it comes to Adelice and the characterization in general. I don't think that Adelice is the prefect heroine, but I liked her voice nonetheless. She's feisty and spirited and willing to take risks when the Guild and the other Spinsters she encounters order her around or try to make her conform to their rules. I like this part of Adelice and I also like that even though she has found herself in a circumstance she has always hoped to avoid, and she has suffered great personal loss as a result, she doesn't give in or give up.
Adelice's makes a few friends and allies as she studies to become a Spinster in Coventry, but she makes enemies as well. I liked the characters of Enora and Valery but my favorite would be the mysterious Loricel, the elderly creweler who takes Adelice under her wing (sort of.) There are plenty of villainous characters: the smarmy, alcoholic Cormac; and jealous, power hungry Maela. I'm also intrigued with the character of Prytana who is really the only other Spinster in training we get to know. She's a complicated personality and I'm interested to see what her future role in the series will be.
There are also two young men that enter Adelice's life while training, Jost and Erik. Yes, both are potential love interests and I know, everyone is now rolling their eyes at the thought of yet another love triangle. But I tried to keep an open mind, Adelice lives in a society that segregates the sexes. Not just in terms of school but whole communities of segregation. And while Adelice has ended up in a place that is, for the most part, women, there are also men around. This is a first for Adelice and well, she's sixteen. Her situation may be somewhat precarious as she discovers just exactly what roles Spinsters, crewelers and the Guild plays, but she's also a teenage girl who is coming into contact with the opposite sex for the first time. So I cut her a little slack if she's indecisive and kind of 'playing the field' a bit. I'd probably do the same if I were in her shoes:)
As I expected it's the world building that I loved most about Crewel. It absolutely is a true dystopian work, similar in many ways to Lois Lowry's The Giver. But it has fantasy elements, Coventry is like a palace setting and exhibits a wide array of court politics as well as the requisite balls and other similar events. Crewel blends several genres, a trend that is becoming more and more prevalent in today's YA, and one that I like quite a bit.
Spinsters, who weave the fabric of life, and can not only create: weaving in new landscapes, weather, even food for the people of Arras, but destroy as well. Communities, families and individual lives are easily ripped from the fabric and it's this element of nonchalant destruction that makes Arras, the Spinsters, and the Guild so frightening. It was both horrifying and fascinating in equal measure. It is thought provoking when you think about the implications of 'all-mighty forces' at play, dictating life and death in fell swoop.
Strong feminist undercurrents are also at work in Crewel. Men controlling women, who in truth are the ones who holding all the power, is a common theme in dystopian literature and it's evident in Crewel as well. It's easy to get behind Adelice as she struggles against the Guild's misogynistic rules.
There is another element at play in Crewel and for me, it was the most exciting part. It doesn't really manifest until the last part of the book, but when it does it opens up possibilities that I didn't expect at all. I'll say that it is science fiction-y in nature but that's all I'm going to say because it would suck to blow the surprise for those of you who haven't read it. If you read this blog you know that I L-O-V-E science fiction and this part of Crewel was awesome. I knew that I would be coming back to see what happens in the next book of the series but the addition of this element totally clinched it for me. Okay, shutting up now.
So in summary, I really enjoyed Crewel. Yes, it's another dystopian work in a very dystopian saturated YA market, but I love the blending of dystopic, fantasy and science fiction genres and I really love the weaving/ world creating aspect of the story too. It does have a love triangle, of sorts, and I expect that angle will be played even more in future books but it doesn't bother me so much, at least not yet anyway. And yes it does end on a cliffhanger, but it's the kind of cliffhanger that doesn't really make you cringe but makes you exclaim 'What the heck?! That's freaking AWESOME." At least that was what I felt after reading. Author Gennifer Albin's writing is easy to read and lyrical at times and I'm very curious as to what she has in store for Adelice in the next book of this series.
Check out Gennifer Albin's website HERE
Check out more reviews of Crewel:
Bunbury in the Stacks
Jen Ryland YA Romantics
Ivy Book Bindings
Birth of a New Witch
Teen Librarian Toolbox