Crewel, by Gennifer Albin. New York, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012. 368 pages. $17.99, hardcover.
Without Katniss Everdeen and the 13 Districts, and all of the other books in which a young woman, despite all odds, triumphs in a world almost-but-not-quite like ours, Adelice Lewys and the world of Arras in Gennifer Albin’s young-adult novel, Crewel, would not exist. The story, even though derivative, gets points for its unique take on why and how we exist.
Everything in Arras, from how many children you have and who you marry to where you live and what you do for a living, is determined by the Spinsters who work in Manipulation Services. Here, the very fabric of time is woven by fingers dexterous enough to warrant special treatment, and Adelice Lewys, despite efforts to hide her talent, is the most talented Spinster to come along in decades, if not a longer period of time.
Trained by her parents to hide her talent, Lewys makes a mistake during the testing and reveals what she can do. They come for her at night, and while trying to escape capture (or forced enlistment in Manipulation Services), she is taken from her parents (who, she is told, are killed) and her sister, who is given a new identity and a new set of memories, something else Spinsters can do.
Everything in Arras is woven into being on looms wielded by Spinsters, each of whom are held in high regard and treated like royalty. The price? Never seeing their families again, strict adherence to purity standards, and the ability to stay young and beautiful (rejuvinatory aides, available to Spinsters and others in high position in Arras).
While Adelice adjusts to her new reality, bucking authority at every turn, she catches the eye of a high-ranking official, draws the ire of a low-ranking Spinster in charge of teaching new recruits, and falls in like with two men on the grounds where the Spinsters live. Jost and Erik, in turn, take an interest in protecting Adelice from herself and those who wish her dead.
A heroine who doesn’t know she’s at war until winning may mean losing everything she has and everything she stands to gain. Adelice may not be as cagey as Katniss but she’s every bit as scrappy and worth getting to know.
William Henderson is never far from his phone, where he is often tweeting (@Avesdad) or blogging (hendersonhouseofcards.com). He is a frequent contributor to Thought Catalog, and has been published in The Rumpus, Mental Shoes, Revolution House, Specter, and Used Furniture Review, among others. He writes a bimonthly column for Hippocampus Magazine, is a regular contributor to Peripheral Surveys, and published his first chapbook, Edgeways, through NAP, in 2011.