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.
-synopsis and cover art courtesy of goodreads.
Atmospheric Analysis: This cover’s colorful embellishes do a surprisingly effective job of communicating major bits of both atmosphere and worldbuilding.
Planetary Class: Crewel is mostly a dystopian novel, one that exists on a sort of sliding scale of fantasy vs. science fiction depending on how far in you read.
Viability Rating: At times, the cracks in Albin’s dystopian world show; for example, spinster women are subjected to rigid purity laws that seem to exist for no reason other than to up the stakes and draw a possible textual comparison between this world and the one glimpsed in The Handmaid’s Tale. But the logic here is somewhat circular and contradictory (spinsters are always chaste women because women are more easily controlled; women are more easily controlled because they’re told they must remain chaste), not organic or incisive as in Atwood’s case. Still, the world of Arras is so pretty, original, and vividly described that it mostly doesn’t matter. It feels real.
Mohs Scale: Crewel is fairly soft science fiction–2 on the Mohs scale, a world of phlebotinum where time and space can be manipulated on giant looms.
Xenolinguisical Assessment: Albin’s writing is gorgeous, the type of delicate, evocative prose rarely seen in YA. Clothing, food, and setting are particularly lovely in their descriptions. This author knows her way around the written word.
Expanded Report: When it comes to Crewel, Gennifer Albin’s highly buzzed October debut, I’m of two minds. On the surface, this is one of the most innovative titles to come so far out of the dystopian craze. It’s the story about Adelice, a gifted spinner who can miraculously see–and manipulate–the very threads of matter and time that make up her world. All girls so blessed must become Spinsters, locked in an opulent compound where they live a lavish lifestyle of parties and gowns while tasked with the responsibility of tending to time and space. Of course, in return they will never see their families again and, more, must live lives of chastity.
The writing is absolutely beautiful, and herein lies Albin’s greatest gift–the ability to perfectly describe a world completely foreign from our own and make you believe it. Arras is a hint classical–towns are named “Romen” and “Cypress,” and there are fishing villages filled with copper-skinned rebels. But it’s also a hint evocative of a Stepford America, too. Women work only as secretaries and teachers, and they don pantyhose and heavy make-up. Men wear smart suits (some double-breasted) and generally look like early-sixties Ken dolls. And yet these two very disparate sides of Arras mesh seamlessly. It’s a vivid, innovative setting, and I believed it completely.
The mystery that lurks behind Arras’s shining, gold-threaded surface is undoubtedly the strongest driving force of the novel. Who are these girls who can weave time and space? What happens when people are “cleaned” and “ripped” from the looms? Why did Adelice’s parents so fear her becoming a Spinster? How did such a world begin? The quest to discover the truth about a novel’s world is more common in adult science fiction than YA sci-fi. I can think of only two YA titles whose universes were as well-rendered and deliciously compelling (Incarnate, and A Confusion of Princes). It’s a bit like Lost in that way; some readers will want to keep up with the story so that they can discover the truth about those polar bears.
But . . . this is also where my major hesitation about Crewel lies. I intuited early on what the truth of this world might be, and after that, the pieces fell a bit too easily into place. This is a story you’ve seen before (with at least one major motion picture release centering on the same twist). Well before the reveal, I became frustrated, rather than riveted.
I suspect this was largely problematic because Adelice’s personality only became fully-formed near the end of the novel. Early on, she was rather sketchily described, an impression not helped by her lack of response to the trauma she faces throughout. Eventually, she became a rather angry girl–an interesting twist, but one that happened just a little too late for me. Likewise, her love interests were very faintly drawn. And some of the more political thematics, about women’s roles, compulsory heterosexuality, purity, and beauty standards, felt ill-fitting with this world once I discovered the truth behind it.
And yet Crewel is still a promising, beautifully written, and iminently interesting book. It takes the kind of risks that I wish more YA sci-fi would, even if they don’t, in the end, always pay out. I’d recommend it for any reader who enjoys lyrical prose and rich worldbuilding. And, while the ultimate mystery of the world didn’t work for me, I’m sure it will be quite fresh and surprising for its intended audience of teenagers.