”For generations, Spinsters have been called by Arras’s Manipulation Services to work the looms and determine what people eat, where they live, how many children they have, and even when they die. Gifted with the rare ability to weave time with matter, Adelice is exactly what the Guild is looking for, and in 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 once you become a Spinster, there is no turning back. Now caught in a web of lies and intrigue, Adelice must decide who to trust: her kind mentor, Enora; the handsome and mysterious valet Jost; or the charismatic Guild ambassador Cormac Patton. They each have secrets, but Adelice is about to unravel the deadliest one of all, a sinister truth that could destroy reality as she knows it.
In a powerful and original debut about a world where the Guild decides everything, one extraordinary girl dares to defy the power of men and the boundaries of love.”
Thoughts: Imagine a world where the phrase “the fabric of time” has a very literal meaning. Imagine that a certain proportion of the entire populace has the power to manipulate time and matter. Now imagine today’s politicians and world leaders and their reaction to such a discovery. Can one truly fathom the lengths to which these leaders would go to protect their power bases? Flash-forward several generations, and one can begin to understand the world of Gennifer Albin’s Crewel.
Adelice is a stereotypical dystopian heroine – intelligent but somewhat clueless on the behind-the-scenes politics. She is not afraid to stand up for her beliefs, but her inability to learn from her mistakes, to listen to well-meaning advice, and to think before she acts tends to create scenes that are more frustrating than they are interesting. One would wish Adelice has a bit more caution before she leaps into action, as strategy is every bit as important in such worlds as fearlessness. More importantly, strategic thinking is much more enjoyable for a reader than all action all the time without much advanced thinking.
Unfortunately, there is also the requisite love triangle. While it does create for a more intriguing story, one cannot help but opine that the plot would be just fine without any sort of romantic sub-plot. On the one hand, it is a natural process of maturation to be attracted to/distracted by the members of the opposite sex at age sixteen. Then again, there is something to be said about bucking the trend and treating Adelice like the independent young woman she is supposed to embody without her having getting entangled in romantic involvements.
Crewel is not the type of novel to stand up to scrutiny. The entire backstory quickly falls to pieces with too much thought. While highly creative, even the explanations that are given about this woven world cannot bear the strain of close inspection. This is not any fault of the writing per se but an issue with the suspense of logic and science that is required in order for the plot to work in its entirety. Once a reader starts questioning just how the looms work, how the world of Arras exists, whether anything in Arras is real, or even trying to picture how such a world would work in the real world, the story unravels (pun not necessarily intended).
For all its faults, Crewel is still an overall fun novel. Because of the unfamiliarity of Adelice’s world, the story grabs a reader’s interest from the very beginning and never lets go. A reader knows at once that Adelice’s understanding of Arras, for all her questions and doubts, is highly limited, and the search for answers beyond her ken is as much a driving force of the novel as her ongoing peril. The descriptions are luscious and appropriately vivid for a world in which weaving, with its focus on textures and colors, is essential. It is very easy to be swept up into Adelice’s world.
Ms. Albin must be given props for creating a dystopian novel that is completely different, on the surface anyway, from most of what is already out on the shelves. With Arras and her Spinsters, she has created a world that is beautifully sinister while touching on current socio-economic issues that impact a large majority of the world today. Adelice may be frustrating, but she is not afraid to take a stand, an essential characteristic in any heroine worthy of being labeled as such. The first story sets up the sequel quite nicely without creating too abrupt a cliffhanger. One can only hope that Ms. Albin will better address the issues with logic and science and answer many of the continuing questions during future novels.
Acknowledgments: Thank you to Macmillan Publishing for my review copy!