Renee Reviews: Jennifer Albin's "Crewel"

Sixteen year-old Adelice is a Spinster. She can weave time and matter. But no one knows just how talented she is….

The Guild demands loyalty, and everyone has their secrets. But Adelice is about to unravel the deadliest one of all, a sinister truth that could destroy reality as she knows it….

Once you become a Spinster, there’s no turning back.

Months prior to it being in my hands, Crewel had the advantage of containing several of my personal literary ‘buzz words’ – namely “weave” and “spinster”. I was envisioning some sort of take on the Fates of Greek mythology, intercepted with commentary on female roles and functions in society. Needless to say, I allowed myself to build up my own idea of what this book would contain, and perhaps that was my downfall. While I certainly can appreciate the original elements and unique world-building that Albin employed, Crewel was sadly a case of having set my expectations too high.

An interesting blend of genres – at once dystopia, science-fiction and good old fashioned fantasy – Crewel essentially adheres to many of the trappings of other young adult titles in these genres, but occasionally takes some surprising, somewhat unexpected turns. The action takes place in the universe of Arras, a baffling futuristic society in which women are once again designated to the second-class citizens, serving only as wives/mothers, secretaries or in the revered position of a Spinster. A Spinster weaves time and space – the very matter of Arras – and as such has control over life and death, creation and destruction, all living and physical things. Nothing can exist in Arras without the work of a Spinster; in theory, they play God. However, as our protagonist Adelice is to learn, they are not in possession of any true power and things are a great deal more oppressive within the Coventry than they are outside of its walls.

I really wanted to empathise with Adelice; I truly did. The poor girl is not in control of her seemingly astonishing weaving abilities, and these lead inevitably to her separation from her family, the murder of loved ones, and the loss of her personal and social freedom (what little there was!) However, Adelice was nothing if not inconsistent as a character for me, leaping from being rather shallow and self-centred to more proactive and aware without much growth in-between. And in what actually proved a problem for many characters, her rather ‘modern’ attitudes and opinions were, rather than comforting and familiar, far too at-odds with the world she would have grown up in. At times, it felt as though Albin was hesitant of providing her cast of players with beliefs and ideas that might sit uncomfortably with a reader but would maintain coherence with Arras as a society. This was quite disarming, especially towards the novel’s beginning, when the world was still being gradually revealed piece-by-piece.

The romance of the novel also fell quite flat for me, as is often the case: there was a somewhat forced attempt at a love triangle, which I am never a fan of, with Adelice juggling between her more superficial attraction to the cocky Erik and her ‘deeper’ connection to the stoic, Jost. Throw in the unwanted attentions of the villainous and older Ambassador Cormac and there were simply far too many men interested in this girl for me to find it at all credible! Cormac at least, in his bad guy role, was slightly more consistent that most other characters, and despite the stereotypical attributes, I found some of his brutal honesty refreshing, as did Adelice. Side characters such the loyal Enora and the allusive mentor Loricel could have been much more than their designated functions  – and at times they almost got there, which was tantalising but ultimately frustrating.

The overall tone of the novel never felt as though it had been decided upon exactly; there were moments where I thought Albin was reaching for some social commentary and some rather sweet and considerate messages about sexual and gender equality. So many themes were possible in this particular universe that she crafted; I am just very sad that there weren’t explored as deeply as they could have been. Of course, this is only the first in a series, so perhaps I am judging too harshly, too quickly. The world-building itself was also somewhat confusing for me; depictions of the weaving in particular were fascinating yet unrelentingly vague. I wanted so badly to get a clear image of how this skill worked and formed the world of Arras, but it never came to light for me. Perhaps I am simply too restricted in my imagination to glimpse it, which I regret!

I will probably give the next instalment in this series a whirl, just out of curiosity, but I still can’t help wishing that the Crewel I had formed in my head was the Crewel that I held in my hands.

Crewel – Gennifer Albin

Faber and Faber Limited

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ISBN – 0374316414

369 pages

October 16th 2012

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  • “Albin was hesitant of providing her cast of players with beliefs and ideas that might sit uncomfortably with a reader but would maintain coherence with Arras as a society.”

    Basically, this. I really wish she would have written this for adults, because I think a) she wouldn’t have been afraid to go there, b) it would have had a lot more consistency and gravitas, and c) it still would have been a popular cross-over for late teens, so why sacrifice a good story line?

    I wish the potentially powerful themes would have been explored, too, but in the end, I’m just left really disappointed with this one.

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