Friday, August 31, 2012

Crewel by Gennifer Albin

Title: Crewel
Author: Gennifer Albin
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pages: 368
Rating: 5/5

I purposefully made myself wait a little bit to review Crewel because I wanted to write a real review - not just a bunch of semi-coherent fangirl squeeing.

I think I might be ready now.

Crewel's premise immediately caught my eye due to its reference - at least in my mind - to the Fates or Moirai who control destiny in Greek (and subsequently just about every culture ever) mythology. The idea of women being called to weave time and matter in a present day setting fascinated me. I was very eager to see how Gennifer Albin would put that idea to paper. The result is The Matrix meets The Hunger Games with shades of the premise of The Handmaid's Tale (or at least what I think of as the premise as I've never read the book), complete with a relatable heroine, moral dilemmas between one's duty to self vs. society, an incredibly vivid post-apocalyptic dystopia and, oh yes, a rather delightful little love triangle that's more scalene than equilateral.

Although, Crewel is book one in a trilogy, so there's time for that to change.

The story begins with Adelice Lewys being called by The Guild to serve as a Spinster, a double edged sword that gives women in a strict patriarchal society the illusion of freedom and power. Adelice isn't interested in that illusion, however, which is why she was purposefully trying to fail at the testing that weeds out the Eligibles from the regular girls. She fails at failing, however, and the Guild comes, resulting in a mad dash escape attempt by her parents that leaves her father dead, her sister captive and her mother MIA.

The beginning is one of only two minuscule quibbles I have with this amazing book. I think Adelice as a character and Arras as a country would have benefited from a couple of chapters of further exploration before we are thrust into the action of the story. Adelice in particular is somewhat illusive as a character for the first few chapters and as much as I fell in love with her fairly quickly, I really didn’t know who she was as a person before being taken from her family by the Guild.

But truthfully, that concern was barely a blip on my radar while reading.

En route to the Coventry where Adelice will presumably spend the rest of her life, she meets the first player in the love triangle, Erik – although she doesn’t learn his name until later. She’s thrown in a cell for the first few days as punishment for her attempted escape and as she’s finally released she meets the second player in the triangle, Josten. It’s really amusing to watch Adelice interact with boys for the first time because she’s never had experience with them before. I appreciate that Albin doesn’t write Adelice as a tongue-tied idiot around members of the opposite sex. Her awkwardness is quickly outweighed by her curiosity and yet she never comes across as desperate or boy-crazy.

God bless Ms. Albin for this.

I don’t want to go too deep into plot details/spoilers from here on out, but suffice it to say that Adelice’s skill and her sharp tongue/quick wit put her at odds with her fellow Eligibles, the head Spinster and the face of the Guild, Mr. Cormac Patton. Her only allies come on the form of Enora, her mentor, Loricel, the Creweler, Erik and Josten. As the story progresses we follow Adelice as she navigates the world of the Coventry and the Guild, trying to keep one step ahead of the people who want to keep her squarely under her thumb. She learns that she’s not just any Eligible and that the Guild has really big plans for her.

Well, as big as they can ever be for a woman in Arras.

Before I gush about a few specific reasons why I enjoyed Crewel so much, I’m going to explain my one other quibble – the exposition. There are a couple of chapters where Adelice and Loricel are talking and through an extensive game of twenty-questions we learn a lot about how Arras was formed and its relationship to the Earth we know. We learn what the weave is – in a deliberately vague sense – and the purpose of a Creweler in keeping it functioning. These are heavy info dump chapters and as a reader, I was very aware of their purpose. It wasn’t bad so much as noticeable because throughout the rest of the novel Albin doles out the exposition quite artfully as events are unfolding.

Then again, Loricel is a very old, very wise woman who has taken it upon herself to teach Adelice about her future as a Spinster, so in that sense the chapters function exactly as they’re supposed to within the narrative. So, take that as you will.

No, onto some specifics that I loved…

Adelice Lewys. I love her. LOVE HER. I’ve read the two biggest YA series that have come out in recent years and the biggest problems I had with both of them came down to the heroines. I couldn’t fully relate to them because I couldn’t wrap my brain around their attitudes regarding their own self-worth. Adelice was a breath of fresh air for me – much like Katy in Obsidian – because while she didn’t think she was the most beautiful creature on the planet, she wasn’t crippled by constant thoughts of how plain and ordinary she was. Like most girls, Adelice felt that she lacked in certain areas, but when Erik and Jost showed an interest in her, she didn’t doubt that she could be a desirable creature to either of them.

She doubted her sanity in pursuing either of them, but that’s a whole different issue. ;p

Part of Adelice’s journey deals with how her actions affect her family and friends. While she is very concerned as to how the Guild can use her loved ones against her, she works toward goals that spell freedom for everybody – including herself – rather than contemplating grand schemes that leave her dead like some kind of martyr. Adelice doesn’t mask cowardice behind self-sacrificing delusions of grandeur.

Lastly, Adelice acts. She doesn’t wait for things to happen to her, she makes them happen. She doesn’t let her fear make her afraid of trying to create her own destiny.

Now the boys…Josten and Erik. I have to admit, I love them both. I have my preference as to who ends up with Adelice, but both characters are compelling. I was especially impressed with Josten’s past – there’s a twist in it that not something I’ve come across before. Erik is all charm and smoothness, navigating and circumventing the system from a place of prominence, while Josten is rougher around the edges, fighting his battle from the ground up.

Both boys are made of win and again, I appreciate the fact that Erik and Josten don’t fall into the traditional good boy/bad boy roles. They each play both sides of the spectrum and as such are fully rounded characters.

I could go on waxing poetic about this book for pages and pages. I could go on about the fascinating world of Arras and how I would leap at the opportunity to read an actual history book of the region so that I could learn how the society became so sharply divided upon gender lines. Adelice briefly mentions her grandmother telling her about a time when children weren’t segregated by gender and there were no Purity Protocols to follow and I’d love to read about the politics involved in that change. I could go on about the concept of Arras and the idea of certain women being able to alter the very fabric of its existence. I could talk about the evils of the Guild and how their quest to map Spinsters calls into mind the idea of genetic mapping and designer babies. There are just so many fascinating concepts within Crewel that I just can’t say enough good things about it.

Crewel is one that will stick with you for a long time after you’ve finished reading it and if you’re anything like me, you will be counting down the days until the next book is available.

I. Cannot. Wait.  


  1. OK ... Now *I* desperately want to read this! Awesome review!

    1. Thank you! It was so hard to write because I just wanted to talk about every little detail.