Review: Crewel by Gennifer Albin

8 December, 2012 Reviews 24 comments

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Crewel by Gennifer AlbinCrewel by Gennifer Albin
Series: Crewel World #1
Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux for Young Readers on October 16th 2012
Pages: 368
Genres: Dystopian, Young Adult
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Amazon Good BooksBook Depository

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 to work the looms is everything a girl could want. It means privilege, eternal beauty, and being something other than a secretary. It also means the power to manipulate the very fabric of reality. 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 used her hidden talent for a moment. 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 jokes. One hour to pretend everything’s okay. And one hour to escape.

Because tonight, they’ll come for her.

It’s been so long since I actively disliked a book that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself.  The more I tried to separate my dislike for the characters and storytelling and try to analyze it impartially, the more I found myself saying, “Bugger this!  Drink anyone?” to the empty air around me.

Crewel is a post-apocalyptic dystopian world in which women are oppressed and tightly controlled.  It is a world where matter and people can be weaved and stitched through special looms that Spinsters use.  This should have been right up my alley.  It was definitely right up something, but it wasn’t my alley.

Unfortunately, Crewel is a heavily character-based novel.  I say unfortunately because there isn’t a single character with more complexity or depth than a kiddie pool and certainly none of them are even a fraction of the fun.  Even the main character, whose head we live in, is so vague and two dimensional that any actions and emotions she displays felt disconnected from the reality of the novel.  This story, even in its most intense moments, was emotionless and the opposite of affecting.  It was like watching a play only the stage is at the bottom of the cliff and you’re at the top.  So far removed that you can see what the actors are doing but engaging in them or the story is impossible.

There are a number of characters the narrator expects us to care about: Elanor, Valery, Amie, Jost, Erik, Pryana.  However, most of these characters barely even have a role. Most of Valery’s speaking lines come after the Great Tragedy that befalls her – and they’re still only a few lines.  Elanor as well, while having a slightly bigger role, is little more than a convenient plot device and represents one of the only semi-positively written female characters.  Her role is so tightly packed into being a convenient tell-machine for the narrator to pass information, and to resolve a later plot point that there is nothing else to her.

The plot itself is a hot mess with no direction or focus.  It flits around distractedly, trying to accomplish everything and achieving nothing.  Don’t even get me started on the ending!  The main selling point of this novel is the weaving – which Adelice does almost none of since she spends more time making goo goo eyes are boys than she ever does interacting with women or doing the damn thing this book was named after.

This is made even worse when you consider the face that the romance in this book is justifiably scoff-worthy.  There isn’t even enough material between them for one convincing romance.  Since Adelice is about as interesting as wet cardboard, it’s hard to imagine anyone falling for her.  Each boy barely fares better.  Their personalities combined still wouldn’t save them from being inhumanely dull.  They are just two more wooden puppets in a whole cast of wooden puppets.

For a novel that is supposed to be about the struggles of women in a highly patriarchal world, this novel was dreadfully sexist.  When I spoke to a friend about this issue, they said, “I tend to disagree with a lot of the criticism re: the book being sexist, but think you could probably make a more compelling case.”

Well, buckle up your seatbelt, sunshine*!  Here’s my case!

*Seatbelt not actually required.

Readers can and should make a deal about the slut-shaming and complete lack of positive female characters.  That’s an issue all in itself.  But then, I guess, one could also sweep that aside with justifications.  Because there are unpleasant and horrible women out there – because women are people, and people come in a mixed bag.  And a society so entirely preoccupied with purity would result in citizens slut-shaming girls for acting outside of those bounds.  So there’s obviously an important discussion to be had on those topics, even though they are not definitely sexist on their own, only kind of sexist.

For me, the true test came when I considered what my Southern and Imaginary mother always told me and that is, “Honey cupcake, y’all should know that actions speak louder than words.” So true, Southern and Imaginary mother.  So true. So whilst this book may have given lipservice to how unfair life was for women and how that TOTALLY wasn’t right or good, what service did the narration and plot actually have to say about women?  Put it this way: When comparing the relevance and representation given to male and female characters in relation to their contribution to the novel, what does it say about women?

Almost every single male character we meet is important.  Cormac, Jost, Erik are the three big ones.  There are only a handful of other males with speaking roles in this book and they’re fairly neutral in their representation.  People just doing their job.  Only one male with a speaking role is depicted badly, which is a drunk, handsy official at a party – and he is still not portrayed worse than the woman trying to vie for his attention.  At least, the characters narrating the situation focus on how disgusting she is, while he only gets a passing mention. I think there may be a waiter who has a speaking role for the purpose of showing how segregated and unfair they world is, but that’s it.

Compare that to the novel’s complete and utter lack of focus on women – which is pretty disgraceful for a novel that’s supposed to be about women’s struggles in a patriotic society.  The only important women in this book are Adelice and the women who torment her.  We are introduced to whole batches of women, who are immediately dismissed by the character and text as meaningless and valueless.  The girls from Adelice’s hometown?  Just simpering morons waiting to get mated.  Even her own younger sister cares for little else.  It seems no one is as deep and thoughtful as Adelice.  Then when she enters Coventry with a large group of her peers, they are immediately shown to be jealous and power-hungry, but ultimately completely inconsequential.  We don’t meet any of them ever again whilst Jost, Erik and Cormac receive the large bulk of Adelice’s, and the narrative’s attention.  Because they’re what really matters, ya know?  What the menfolk are doing.  The only exception to this rule, because it is a pattern repeated yet again when Adelice joins the Spinsters who are also cliquey and immediately dismissed from the narrative as pointless and worthless like the literally dozens of other women we meet, is Maela and Pryana.  Maela is a power-hungry psychopath and Pryana is a power-hungry, vicious, idiot.  Both are stupid and extremely ineffective at what they do.  Female solidarity doesn’t exist in this novel.  Unless you’re referring to the convenient plot-device that is Elanor. She is the sole exception.

Add to this the fact that the women in this novel all act inexplicably irrational.  There is evil Cormac, and evil Maela and evil Pryana.  Only one of them acts intelligently and with rationale – I’ll let you pick which one.  You can depend on the evil women to be emotional, lashing out and sometimes hysterical.  Behaviour that is never depicted in the men.  For example, Maela asks Adelice to remove a strand from the weave.  The strand is a person who doesn’t need to be removed and doing so could harm the weave, so she refuses.  Maele takes her scalpel and tears into the weave out of anger.  It turns out this was a school where Pryana’s sister lived.  So Pryana… blames Adelice?!  Because that totally makes sense.  And she spends the rest of the novel irrationally tormenting Adelice. Valery, similarly blames Adelice for things that are entirely out of her control.  It is so manufactured and senseless that it made the novel ridiculous.  Almost as ridiculous as the fact that Adelice spent the novel entirely focused on boys.  The plot went something like this:

Adelice’s family dies


meets horrible girls




stuff about weaving






More horrible girls






Even Loricel, supposedly the one, decent woman in power in this book is little more than a caricature.  You can’t claim a feminist text when the narration itself, despite constantly being surrounded by women, decides that all the male characters are so much more interesting and worth focusing on.  When the few male characters are afforded exponentially more important roles than any of the many, many female characters – many of whom don’t even get the honour of a name or mention outside of just Horrible Female #35 who says horrible thing to Adelice.  When the rate of decent male character so far outstrips the demonstration of decent female characters that there isn’t even room for comparison, you have a problem.  You have a book that wants to say something about women, but ignores them in favor of focusing on men.

That is really fucking sexist.  So… Bugger this!  Drink, anyone?

Kat Kennedy

Kat Kennedy

Co-blogger at Cuddlebuggery
Kat Kennedy is a book reviewer and aspiring author in the Young Adult genre. She reviews critically but humorously and get super excited about great books. Find her on GoodReads.
Kat Kennedy

24 Responses to “Review: Crewel by Gennifer Albin”

  1. LenaMarsteller

    Hmmm… well in some parts of the world (middle east cough cough) women are still being treated horribly….  so i don’t know maybe the book was trying to display that… hmmm i don’t know haha I haven’t read the book yet… but definitely an interesting review. Thanks for your honest review.

    • KatKennedy

      LenaMarsteller There is nothing wrong with displaying a misogynistic, paternalistic society so long as the form and function of the novel doesn’t reiterate those themes.  But thanks for commenting!  You should read it for yourself and make up your own mind.

      • christinareadsya

        KatKennedy  Stephanie Sinclair Ah! It’s so weird to see that the two of you have disagreed on a book o.O. You both made really good points (I read Steph’s review on Goodreads).

      • Deb E

        KatKennedy Stephanie Sinclair Oooh, is there a chick fight going on here? Oh wait,is it wrong to get excited about fighting? & say “chicks”? Fine lines… fine lines…

        • KatKennedy

          Deb E KatKennedy Stephanie Sinclair My philosophy is that it’s okay to say if you have a vagina.  Just like the word bitch.

        • AnimeJune

          KatKennedy Deb E Stephanie Sinclair Having a vagina does not mean it’s okay to write a book where the only reason Spinsters are women are because they are seen as weaker, more gullible, less morally strong than men.

  2. deberelene

    “Negative” reviews are the most entertaining to read, but also the scariest (for a yet-to-be-published writer)!
     I like to think of books, even fiction, as having something to teach us, so it is a worry when a story encourages us to perpetrate negative beliefs about any group of people. 
    Thanks for the warning.

    • KatKennedy

      Deb E No prob.  As always, I encourage people to read and see for themselves!  This is just one interpretation…even though I’m completely right and all must bow before me! *cue evil laugh*

  3. Mel @ thedailyprophecy

    I disagree, but I can definitely understand your points. The characters weren’t so interesting and there is no development in their personality, but the unique world was more than enough for me to make this an enjoyable book 🙂 Great review though!

  4. Primrose

    Oooh I’m staying away from the book. Had enough of weak female protagonist mooning about boys and the love of her life. The weaving thing sounds interesting but since the plot looks a bit dodgy, I think I’ll give it a pass. Too many books too little time.:)

  5. Renae M

    Oh boy! I just received my copy of Crewel in the mail (incidentally, it was from Cuddlebuggery). 
    Sexism is always a turn-off, no matter what. While I think that books should, above all, be entertaining, it’s also important to be aware of any understated messages running around in a novel. Plus, slut shaming and the like are hardly MY idea of being entertaining.
    Anyway, I’ll be interested to see Steph’s review for Crewel—I assume we’re in for a Review Battle? 😉

  6. AnimeJune

    Sweet fancy Moses, this is EXACTLY how I felt about Crewel. I get angry just thinking about it.
    And it’s bad enough the evil women are evil – but the book also makes them PROMISCUOUS or SEXUALLY AGGRESSIVE. Because sexuality in a woman is AUTOMATICALLY EVIL, right ladies?! 
    Of course, the worst of it was the explanation for why all the Spinsters were women. All these people, capable of reweaving the fabric of existence itself, are only and have always only been women. I figured there might be some positive reason for this, but it turned out – the reason Spinsters are all women is because “women are more easily controlled.” Yeah, because men are all righteous and would fight back against obvious evil, but silly weak womenz are easily dazzled by luxury and pretty dresses and hot baths and will do all sorts of evil in return. 
    REALLY. This novel is to feminism what Victoria Foyt’s novel was to racism.
    **spoilers ahead**
    Rereading your review also made me remember just how awful the characterization of Elanor was. She was literally a token character in every sense of the word and just a cheesy, tasteless way to shoehorn in a last-minute half-assed LGBT issue to try and make the novel more “politically relevant.” Newsflash – IT’S NOT RELEVANT WHEN SHE’S ONLY ON SCREEN FOR SIX MINUTES AND FOR THREE OF THOSE SHE’S LOBOTOMIZED/DEAD.

  7. Sarah saz101

    heh. I think this is bizarre, because didn’t Steph love it BECAUSE she thought it was pro-women-are-awesome? My point being, I love how wildly varied people’s thought can be.
    I… haven’t been much interested in this. But I’m seriously not going to read it, now. I… uh. YES.
    But I love your review <3

  8. ChristinaBooth

    Great review, Kat. I have my doubts about Crewel and after reading an excerpt, I’m still pretty unimpressed with it. Adelice certainly came off as dreadfully monotone and cardboard-y, so I’ll see how I’m feeling in regards to picking this up in the future. 
    As far as Albin writing a story that does little in the way of actually promoting womanhood, it reminds me of a similar debate going on about this feminist gamer (her name escapes me at the moment) whom is doing this project or campaign on sexism and games, etc. or something like that. I can’t remember the details, but basically a lot of her criticism came in the form of her not really knowing what it actually meant to BE a girl gamer, because she simply wasn’t, so had never really received that sort of backlash (or something like that, I’m vague on the details so someone correct me if I’m wrong). 
    Anyway, someone said that this woman was arguing about sexism in games merely for the sake of she being a woman. She didn’t really know the community, or endured the treatment, so she was approaching it in such a way as to seem as though she was merely riding a wave that she couldn’t surf (bad analogy, I know). 
    So the point you brought up made me think of this issue as well: speaking from a platform on the basis that you shared a minor aspect with it. In Albin’s case, just being a woman (for all I know, as far as her own sexist experiences are concerned). Yet, she created a work that some would consider not very representational of a believable female struggle. 
    Yeah, basically I think your point is interesting. Very long winded, I know. :/

  9. cynicalsapphire

    You know, I read this book in August, and I didn’t like it, though I thought, like you, that it showed promise in the world building and some of the writing. However, what I failed to do was put a finger on precisely why I wanted to punch this book in the face. I latched onto the romance, which, admittedly, does make me want to puke all over, but was only one symptom of a diseased book.
    So much agreement on how incredibly flat the characters are, including Adelice. People would be reading this and would comment on how much they liked her and I would go “REALLY?!?!?!?!” To me, she completely lacked a personality. Her parents died and she was like “Wah! I’m sad. Oh hey, cute boys!” Umm, what? No. Just no. I had no sense of real emotions in her. Nor was she intelligent enough to know that she could have solved everything or at least made a different problem to deal with if she’d just ripped the evildoer. Then there would be consequences to deal with, which I think would have been a much more interesting novel.
    I really don’t know how I didn’t notice how sexist this book was. I just knew I was disgusted and didn’t want to think about it anymore. Nice work, Kat. You kept the snark to a minimum and still ripped this book apart, like Adelice should have ripped Cormac.

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