Crewel, by Gennifer Albin

Buy from Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, or IndieBound

Author’s website
Publication date – October 16, 2012

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Incapable. Awkward. Artless.

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.

Thoughts: When I first saw this book, I thought it must be the right one for me. With a title like that, references to spinsters, embroidery, all that stuff, I thought this could be a great speculative novel for people who enjoy fibre arts.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t as great as I had hoped.

It wasnt a bad novel. Really, while reading it, it reminded me a lot of a cross between The Hunger Games (review here), Divergent (review here), and Shadow and Bone (review here). It had intelligent social commentary, a snarky and rebellious female protagonist, and took place in a dystopian society, although one that wasn’t quite as dark and twisted as some I’ve read. The writing style was smooth, the sto0ry flowed nicely, and there was a good balance of intrigue and calmer times.

The problem is that this novel’s comparisons to other novels was one of its downfalls. I might have enjoyed this a lot more had I not already read any of the other novels I mentioned, because then Crewel would have seemed all the more unique and creative. As it was, it seemed rather deritvative. It had too much strength in its own premise to say that it’s merely riding the coattails of other books, but it’s certainly cut from the same cloth, and it shows.

Adelice as a protagonist was an interesting choice, though her character seemed a little hard to pin down sometimes. In one scene, she’d be unsure, hesitant, gentle and with a sort of wide-eyed innocence. Very much the product of the society that raised her, with its laws about the segregation of the sexes and women only being allowed to take on jobs like teacher or secretary. The next scene, she’s snarking at somebody and almost seeming rebellious for the sake of rebellion. She was unknowing where it suited the plot, and witty enough to keep readers hooked with dialogue, but the two aspects of her personality rarely mixed.

Adelice can see the threads that make up the world, and she can weave them and alter them as she sees fit. Her parents do their best to train her out of this habit, knowing that if it’s discovered she’ll be taken from them and trained to be a Spinster, one who doesn’t actually do anything to do with spinning so much as working on the weave that keeps reality stable. Naturally, she gets chosen anyway, makes an enemy of a political-ladder-climbing Spinster, and discovers that she’s actually more than just a regular Spinster. She’s actually a Creweler, someone who can see the weave without the use of a loom, and someone who can embroider the basic weave and create new things where others can just shuffle stuff around and make minor repairs.

The world of a Spinster is both glamourous and dull. They get to go to fancy parties, dress in wonderful clothes and wear makeup, but most of the work they do is mundane, fairly standard. The Guild that rules the world thinks this is a fine way to treat women, who are treated as second-class citizens and people who are weak-willed and distracted by shiny things for no other reason than treating them that way gives the Guild power of society. Really, that’s the only reason given for the segregation and purity laws that are constantly mentioned here. There isn’t even an attempt at making it look like something more, some answer to spoon-feed citizens so they go along with it without fuss. Nope, it’s that way because it’s that way. It was this that led to many of the inconsistancies in Adelice’s personality, I think. Albin made sure to demonstrate that Adelice was indeed a product of her society, naive and innocent and a perfect target for a budding love triangle (that I felt no real chemistry from, to be completely honest), but at the same time Albin knew that wouldn’t fly with a modern audience, and so had to give Adelice a bit of attitude, an untamed tongue and the desire to fight back against people who treated her badly.

It could be argued that she learned this from her parents, who were somewhat anti-Guild. But in context, that’s a stretch, since her parents were very careful not to be outspoken about their dislike of society’s laws and the Guild’s policies. If anything, 16 years of this (with actual good reasoning backing it up) would likely have produced someone who was a little better at not saying every snarky thought that went through her head.

Ultimately, Crewel was an interesting story that had many merits, and could probably stand well on its own. The problem is that in many ways, it isn’t alone. It’s surrounded by other novels that are very like it, and most of the best already came before it. It’s hard not to make the comparison to larger novels and series that are already stocking bookshelves around the world. If you’re looking for something in the same vein as what Suzanne Collins or Veronic Roth writes, then absolutely, check out Crewel. You’ll probably enjoy it for its smilarities. If you want to do an almost reverse-hipster thing and read this because it’s like those other novels but isn’t so very mainstream, then read Crewel. But if you’re looking for something unique, something that’s a break-out hit that really leaves people going, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming,” then you’re better off giving this one a miss. You won’t be missing too much.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

2 comments on “Crewel, by Gennifer Albin

  1. This definitely becomes a problem when a genre becomes so popular, it’s really hard for a book to stand out. On the other hand, if I’m ever craving a good dystopian, I’ll be sure to check it out, since it certainly sounds reliable. Thanks for the review!

  2. Pingback: October recap | Bibliotropic

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