Book Review: Crewel by Gennifer Albin
Gennifer Albin’s debut Crewel is a unique sci-fi/dystopian story that somehow, as late as it comes to this post-Hunger Games YA dystopian trend, manages to be fresh, interesting, and visually arresting. There are a few books that could stand out from the pack like this, especially at this point in time, but Crewel manages to shine.
I really don’t want to say TOO much about the plot because it is quite enjoyable to have it revealed gradually and skillfully by Albin, but to briefly summarize: Adelice tries to fail her test, the one that would identify her as a Spinster, and mean her removal from her parents and her sister Amie, but she slips up during the test, manipulating the weave of time and matter around her. The Guild discovers her ability and whisks her away to the Coventry to train as a spinster. Everything in Arras is perfectly controlled and manipulated by the Guild and the Spinsters to maximize society’s health and productivity. But as Adelice finds out, there is a lot the public doesn’t know about this seemingly perfect arrangement.
Crewel shares a bit of DNA with other dystopian YA’s including The Giver, The Hunger Games, Matched, and Divergent, but it carves out its own original path from these stories, making it a thrilling and original dystopian debut.
Why Crewel Rocks:
Reality Bending Worldbuilding
I love when a sci-fi/dystopian thinks WAY outside the box. Gennifer Albin gets serious props for developing what could have been a WTF?! crazy idea into a convincing and thoroughly absorbing world that fascinates and stumps. You will be questioning, wondering where this world is going and how it works. Be patient. Albin has answers for you, and she delivers them in her own rhrythm through flashbacks and Adelice’s investigations.
The ending is fantastic—and despite the fact that it’s pretty much a monster cliffy that will have you immediately salivating for book two, it’s deeply satisfying.
Vibrant Villains (and Friends)
Nothing breaks up a really good dystopian plot like a cardboard villain. In Crewel, the villains are well-drawn and frightening because they’re unbalanced, cruel, and morally flexible, but very calculated and intelligent about it. They know how to push Adelice’s buttons, and how to manipulate even the most powerful Spinsters into submission.
Likewise, Adelice’s newfound friends at the Coventry are fiercely loyal, caring, and willing to help her, despite the fact that they are neck deep in their own Guild related problems.
YA dystopias love to torment a girl by tearing her from her family and threatening her, then ply her with beautification and glamour.
In the same way Katniss experiences a fancy stylist-led makeover and the rich food and accomodations of the Capitol (you know, before the kids-killing-kids Hunger Games begins), Adelice experiences that frustrating dystopian cocktail of death threats, danger, and stifling control mixed with fancy dresses, makeovers, parties, and posh living arrangements. The Spinsters are promised a life of glamour and riches, and are given renewal patches which keep them young forever. Every girl in Arras wants to be a Spinster, and few question the life.
From the beginning Adelice can see this rich, beautiful privilege for what it really is—a gilded cage. As the Guild expects, most sixteen year old girls are too dazzled to see the bars.
Arras: A Feminist’s Nightmare
For a dystopian society to really get you steamed and invested enough to yearn for its downfall, it could starve its population, kill innocent citizens, control every aspect of their lives, and engage in unnecessary violence. Arras does all that, sure. Maybe I’m desensitized by YA dystopian cruelty at this point, but what really got even more under my skin about Arras and the Guild is the way women are treated. At sixteen, they’re either taken off to be asexual Spinsters for the rest of their lives, or they stay home, get married, gleefully slather on makeup and go work as secretaries (where their bosses are allowed to call them “pet”!!). There is no tolerance for falling in love on your own, or having any agency in your life whatsoever. I was breathing fire…..which is exactly what I was meant to do.
The ONLY negative thing I will say about Crewel is that the love triangle didn’t blow me away, because I don’t really feel invested in either side of it. I think building up attraction and intimacy with both guys did each of those relationships a disservice by spreading the emotional investment too thin, and it just gets lost in the larger context of the story. There is this whole fascinating world revealing itself bit by bit to us, and breaking that up to invest in not one, but two romances was too much. I think this book would have been damn near perfect with just one romantic interest.
That criticism aside, this book is a fabulous addition to any dystopian/sci-fi shelf, and is a thoroughly enjoyable read.