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.Crewel by Gennifer Albin
Series: Crewel World #1
Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux for Young Readers on October 16th 2012
Genres: Dystopian, Young Adult
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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?