Friday, November 30, 2012

"Crewel," by Gennifer Albin

The Protagonist: Adelice Lewys. While born with a miraculously powerful ability to weave the fabric of reality, her parents have taught her to suppress it to avoid calling attention to herself.
Her Angst: Unfortunately, the government finds out about her powers and proves willing to do just about anything to control it for themselves.

The Secondary Cast:

Amie: Adelice's little sister, who is captured by the Guild after their parents try to protect Adelice from being taken away.

Enora: Adelice's Spinster mentor - a genuinely nice gal, with some pretty dangerous secrets.

Maela: Adelice's superior, and an insanely power-hungry villain who may or may not be anger-banging her personal assistant.

Erik: Maela's personal assistant, who may or may not be getting anger-banged by her, all the while trying to love-bang Adelice with his eyes. Love Interest #1.

Jost: The head valet of the Coventry, assigned to care for all the Spinsters. Gruff, but kind - and fully aware of the Guild's evil ways. Love Interest #2.

Cormac Patton: The leader of The Guild, who has a definite thing for underage girls.

Pryana: Adelice's training-mate-turned-enemy, thanks to Maela's machinations.

Loricel: The Creweler - the one Spinster capable of creating (rather than just re-weaving) raw matter. Without her, their world is toast, and she's not a spring chicken anymore.

Angst Checklist:

  • My Parents were Murdered and Then Written Out of Existence
  • Two Boys, One Love Triangle
  • Literally Everything Bad That Happens Is My Fault
  • Gender Roles
  • The Needs of the Many Versus the Needs of the Few
  • Caring For Your Appearance and How That Automatically Makes You a Terrible Person
  • Dystopian Futures
The Word: I really wanted to like Crewel. It seemed to have such an interesting story - in an alternate world, the fabric of reality itself is maintained and woven by powerful women known as Spinsters, and every girl who demonstrates potential for weaving is taken away at the age of sixteen to train in the Coventry to help maintain the ordered nature of their world.

Unfortunately, Crewel turned out to be a dud for two major reasons. Firstly, it tries way too damn hard to be The Hunger Games. Secondly, for all of its colourful attempts to present gender roles in an interesting way, it only ends up solidifying sexist ideas. 

In the dystopian world of Arras, Adelice Lewys returns home after being tested for Spinster abilities, unwilling to tell her parents that she failed. Not that she failed to prove herself a Spinster - but the very opposite. She failed to hide the amazing weaving skills her rebel parents have trained her to repress since childhood, and she can't bring herself to tell them that the Guild will soon be coming to take her away.

Which turns out to be a monumentally stupid decision, since once the Guild shows up, her parents resist and her father winds up murdered. Captured and sedated, Adelice is dragged off to the Coventry against her will. 

As Adelice quickly learns, the Spinsters and the Guild can control the very weave of reality itself, and they use this phenomenal cosmic power to make life harder for just about everyone in existence. Not only can they kill people from a distance (by "ripping" their threads), but they can rewrite people's very identities. Revolution is impossible because Spinsters can even "spot" treasonous thoughts because they cause a person's thread to change colour. Even though Adelice has the potential to be an incredibly powerful Spinster, she has no desire to play God or by the Guild's rules. 

Now, all of this would be lovely and exciting, except that the storytelling in Crewel is incredibly derivative of its literary predecessor, The Hunger Games. See if any of this sounds familiar - Crewel has:
  • A cloyingly innocent little sister character whose safety guarantees the protagonist's compliance
  • A beloved dead father figure to inspire the protagonist's rebellion against authority
  • A government-sanctioned team of stylists whose leader becomes a friend who also harbours rebellious leanings
  • A love triangle between a charming but untrustworthy diplomat and a damaged, rough revolutionary. 
  • A voracious and tacky media machine for which the protagonist is forced to primp and pose in gowns to promote the party line. 
As well, I found the gender dynamics of Crewel were incredibly troubling and hypocritical, even though the unfair treatment of women seems to be a major theme of the novel. The society of Arras is incredibly repressive towards women: girls are segregated from boys and held to high "Purity Standards." The only jobs available for women are as as secretaries, teachers, nurses, and factory workers. In fact, most people in society want their daughters to become Spinsters, since it seems to be a far more powerful and influential position than any woman could expect otherwise. 

And yet, almost every female character other than Adelice is either a) a shallow twit who cares only about make-up and clothes, b) an evil power-hungry slut, or c) a victim. 

Every woman who is depicted as ambitious, as wanting more than what the male establishment allows her to have, is not only written as a villainess, but as a sexually aggressive and/or promiscuous one. Maela is the main baddie - a violent and unstable psychotic who apparently keeps Erik (Adelice's Love Interest #1) as a sexual plaything while secretly wishing to be the wife of Cormac Patton (the President Snow leader of the Guild). 

Second to that is Pryana. Pryana - without actually doing anything evil  - is depicted as evil and inferior to Adelice because she uses men's physical attraction to her to gain power for herself, such as when she dances and flirts with (gasp!) ugly, old, fat men at a social function while Pure Heroine Adelice only dances and flirts with thin, young, hot boys. Oh, and Pryana likes shopping, clothes, and looking hot! TOTALLY EVIL, right?

Because Adelice, our heroine, is such a fine, upstanding individual. So selfless, so caring. So in love with burly, rebellious valet Jost, who tragically lost his teen bride and baby daughter to the Evil Guild of Evil. Yet when our Selfless, Caring Heroine discovers her Super-Special-Spinster powers don't involve time-travel, her first thought is relief because if she had the power to go back in time and save Jost's family, she's not sure she'd be able to do it. 

I am dead serious. Adelice, our heroine, is glad that she doesn't have the power to go back in time and save her OWN family, because it would also mean she would have to save THE WIFE AND BABY of the boy she has a crush on. Really. REALLY. TOTALLY SELFLESS HEROINE, right?

But what about the Spinsters? They have the power to control weather, transport matter, rewrite existence, and even read people's intentions in the colours of the threads. Surely there must be a girl-power reason that all Spinsters are women? There is! As Adelice discovers, the (entirely male) Guild only chooses to train women as Spinsters because women are more easily controlled

I almost threw this book at a wall.

I am not even kidding. That is seriously the book's worldbuilding. Women, apparently, are chosen to be Spinsters not because only women have this power but because women are just naturally more easy to manipulate than men. Just dangle some diamonds and Colin Firth DVDs in front of their faces and they'll do anything, am I right ladies?! Women won't care that they're murdering people or ripping entire societies out of existence so long as those hot baths and foot rubs keep coming! 

Do yourself and your ovaries a favour - avoid this misogynist Hunger Games rip-off. 

You can purchase Crewel here. But don't say I didn't warn you.


  1. Anonymous4:18 PM

    I wanted to like Crewel too -- and while I thought that the weaving of time and matter had the potential to be an awesome concept, I too was troubled by the way gender norms were constructed. What I thought was going to be a YA Handmaid's Tale just didn't deliver, and more troubling, seemed so anti-feminist.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    1. No worries. I'm just surprised so many people liked this book without catching that.

  2. Okay, I think I'll give this one a miss. It was on my "maybe" list and to be honest, anything I can drop from that list gives me more time to read the things I'm more likely to like. You've done me a service, reading this one. Thank you.

  3. "Every woman who is depicted as ambitious, as wanting more than what the male establishment allows her to have, is not only written as a villainess, but as a sexually aggressive and/or promiscuous one."

    Ew :\ And double EEEW at the "women are easier to control" thing. It's too bad, as the premise does sound interesting, but... thanks but no thanks.

    1. I know - the "women are easier to control" wasn't just offensive - but it was also such a narratively LAZY cop-out of an explanation. You couldn't invent some genetic/scientific reason only women had this power? No, you just had to portray women as stupid and gullible and easily swayed by sparkly items.

  4. Alright, I am SO excited about this, because from the description you put in your round-up, I think you might actually have had just about the same reaction as I did to this book. Pretty much everyone I know LURVED it and thought it was amazing, and I'm sort of like "did you guys read the same book, because ummm WHAT WAS THAT LOVE TRIANGLE?"

    Observation #1: TOTALLY forgot the she had a sister, because that's how much she mattered to Adelice.

    Observation #2: Jost is still an awful name. Also, how hard did you thunk your head to the desk when Adelice at first hates him, but then sees that under all the dirt he's HAWT and now wants to talk to him forever and be jealous of his dead wife?

    Observation #3: Seriously, her sister was important? I honestly have no memory of this girl, which is impacting my ability to appreciate your analysis. Grrr. Her father was beloved? Geez, apparently I remember nothing but that love triangle.

    Observation #4: Dystopian authors really like to subjugate women, and I kind of get it, but oy. Do a good job with it, like in The Handmaid's Tale. Is that too much to ask? Also, if the spinsters have been so repressed and now have this power, wouldn't some of them just rip the male figureheads out of existence? I know I sure as hell would. You tell me how to live my life, then leave me with this loom that I can control by which I can destroy you? GOOD PLAN. I may not make the world better for women or anyone by taking out Cormac Patton and Maela, but I'm okay with that.

    Observation #5: Didn't Adelice also rip Pryana's sister or something like that? Ugh. That was awful. Adelice definitely seemed at least as obnoxious as Pryana, but she's such a bitch to her. Unclear pronoun reference, I know, but honestly put either girl in either pronoun and that works.

    Observation 6: Not only would she not save Jost's wife and child, but her insane jealousy in this scene comes RIGHT AFTER a scene where she made out with Erik in a garden. "Jost how dare you have ever boned someone else when I am mostly saving myself for you! *weeps*" Shut the fuck up.

    Observation 7: Mmmm, Colin Firth. But I'm still ripping threads. Why didn't Adelice do that? WHY? If Jost's family had still been alive and well, she would have ripped them no problem and blamed it on Pryana, so that she could have him all to herself, but she can't rip the evil guys? What the fuck. Also, I'm pretty sure the book with her straight up evil and ripping everyone who annoys her would be way more interesting.

    Finally: WHY THE FUCK DID THEY HAVE TO BE BROTHERS? *shoots self in head*

    1. Yuuuup!

      #1: I know! She was such a cloying, cutesy plot moppet. No real purpose except as a symbol.

      #2. Ugh. I always side-eye characters who are jealous of dead partners/spouses.

      #3. Well, he was brutally murdered more or less in front of her.

      #4. Oh, but of course women are just so NATURALLY compliant they would never do those things! Ugh - this book bothers me because it is CONSCIOUSLY TRYING TO BE FEMINIST by showing how society is bad by subjugating women - but it's telling this story using REALLY OLD sexist tropes like how women are shallow and love to take orders.

      #5. She didn't - she was asked to rip a certain thread and refused, so Maela went in and ripped up a whole school, including Pryana's sister. So Pryana blamed Adelice because she's a gullible twit.

      #6. I know, right?! But the fact that saving a woman and her baby would be a difficult choice because it meant she couldn't kiss him anymore - that's WAY too crazy, too fast for me.

      #7. Well, she was being watched pretty closely - also, maybe she thought killing people, even evil people, would be morally wrong.

      I really disliked the brother element, too - plus, how could she tell just because of their eyes and kisses??

    2. 2. Me too. Obviously he has feelings for you, and it's not like you're going to be stuck in a love triangle, since she's gone. Yes, he will compare you to her, but, if he's with you, he probably cares about you at least as much, so chill out.

      3. I do remember that her parents were murdered and that did sort of bother her, but I didn't get a strong feeling of grief. Honestly, I feel like she was more bothered by Pryana than that.

      4. I DO love to take orders, and throw them back in the person's face.

      5. Ah, right. I remember that now.

      7. Unless they would get between her and her true love. Or her and her other true love.

      Their eyes I get, but THEIR KISSES? I don't think that's a thing. I'm pretty sure kissing technique isn't an inherited trait.

  5. Thank you! I'm so glad to find someone else focusing on the extreme misogyny in Crewel——there are so many positive reviews out there! I wrote about gender in Crewel and other YA dystopias here, if you're interested:

    1. I know! And all the positive reviews focus on the original story idea (which, to be fair, is a cool idea), and the love triangle. Yaaay, boys?