A Milestone Note, and a Book Review

Good morning!

So, this morning I awoke to find that my blog had ticked over the 10,000 hit mark while I slept. Also, I’d gained a few new followers on Twitter, bringing me to over 600.

Image: last.fm

Image: last.fm

Of course, I am aware that Twitter is a nebulous and quicksilver thing, wherein you lose followers as quickly as you gain them (more quickly, in some cases); I’m pleased to have reached another milestone, all the same. I’m happier, though, to know that my blog has had north of 10,000 hits since it first came online last August, and for that I have nobody but you guys – my lovely readers – to thank.

Image: gulfshoressteven.wordpress.com

Image: gulfshoressteven.wordpress.com

It’s amazing to think how frightened I was of beginning this blog. I was excited and happy about it, too, but mainly I was terrified. I could never have imagined how much happiness it has brought me, and how useful it has been, in so many ways. Thank you to everyone who’s helped it, and me, to go from strength to strength.

And now, as I am wont to do on Saturdays, shall we have a little book review? Let’s.

I’ve been wondering whether or not to do a review of the following book. I wondered if I was brave enough. Then, of course, I woke up and saw all the wonderful milestone-y stuff I mentioned above, and realised: Yes. I can do this. For this book, friends, is the one I mentioned a few posts ago, the one which took as its core concept an idea which I had also had, many years ago, and hadn’t been clever enough to put out into the world.

That book is ‘Crewel’, by Gennifer Albin.

Image: wordchasing.com

Image: wordchasing.com

I’ll say at the outset that I liked this book, but there were some problems with it. The idea at its heart – that the whole world (Arras) can be ‘woven’, the threads of its matter and time manipulated as though they were fabric being woven on a loom – is the idea I also had, many years ago, and had started writing a story about. The world I’d imagined differed vastly from the one Albin imagines here, and it was fascinating for me to see where she took the idea. Her world is one in which the sexes are segregated until the late teens, at which time most people are expected to marry (without any real ‘courtship’ or any sort of gentle introduction to adult life), where there are particular jobs for men and women (I don’t need to tell you which gender gets short shrift!), where women have to conform to both purity and aesthetic standards, and life in general is very circumscribed.

Then, there are women like Adelice Lewys, Albin’s protagonist. Adelice is a girl who is gifted with the ability to see the weave, and to manipulate it. She has been coached all her life by her parents to hide this ability, because they do not want her to be taken away and trained as a Spinster (the name given to a girl or woman with this ability to see the weave), never to come home to them again. The life of a Spinster is painted as a good one, full of comfort, luxury and freedom – most girls strive for it – but, of course, it’s not as straightforward as that. Adelice messes up her test, passes it by mistake, and gets abducted in the middle of the night. She gets taken to the Coventry, the training ground for future Spinsters, and thrust straight into the intrigue at the heart of her world.

There’s lots to like about this book. I loved the title, for a start – a play on the word ‘cruel’, and a reference to a type of weaving technique (crewelling). I liked Adelice, I liked her family – especially her bubble-headed, lovable, cutely childish sister Amie – and I liked the idea of the Coventry (or ‘Coventries’, as there are four of them), a cross between a convent, as Spinsters are expected to be (officially) celibate, and a quasi-military command centre. I (obviously) love the central idea of the matter of a world being woven, and the weaver having ultimate control over the ‘threads’ of life, able to rip people out of the pattern if they misbehave, or weave in new life wherever they wish. I enjoyed the way Albin uses this idea to examine notions of power, freedom and cruelty, and how easy it can be for those in power to misuse that power.

I liked, also, that she explored ideas of ‘otherness’ – there are a pair of instructors in Adelice’s Coventry who have an unconventional and (in this world) illegal relationship. One of them is ‘remapped’, or has her memory and personality wiped, in order to quell her feelings for her partner, which leads to heartache and horror. The relationships between the girls in the Coventry is interesting; we see bullying and cliques forming, and we notice how easy it is for people who are disenfranchised to start turning on one another, exerting whatever control they can within the straitened reality of their lives. One of these characters, Pryana, is a little too simplistic for my liking; some of her actions and thought processes seem completely irrational and silly, and that annoyed me. But, perhaps there are women like her in institutions like the Coventry, with minds driven mad by fear and a desire to please, and the need to survive.

Now, for the things I didn’t enjoy so much. Firstly, the idea of Adelice’s kidnapping in the middle of the night, and the damage done to her family in the attempt to extract her. If being a Spinster is such a prestigious thing, and every family in the world wants their daughter to have this life of privilege, why do they come in the middle of the night to abduct the girls and bring them to the Coventries? I thought that was strange. I also found Albin’s descriptions of the weave, and the ways in which the Spinsters can manipulate it, very hard to imagine – and I’m speaking as a person who spent years visualising a very similar world! I understand the concept she’s using, and I get the idea of people and buildings and places and lives being akin to threads, vulnerable and prone to damage or ‘ripping’ by a Spinster, and totally under the control of the one who weaves; but in that case, how do Adelice’s parents harbour rebellious thoughts? How does anyone, if they’re all being ‘woven’, including their thought processes and minds? Perhaps this will be explained in a future book. I also found the end of the book confusing and hard to visualise; it also felt ‘rushed’ and a little too convenient.

I’m not even going to start on the love triangle between Adelice, Jost and Erik, and the relationship between the two boys (which I saw coming a mile off); that whole thing really irritated me. I felt it was unnecessary – unless, of course, it’s going to become a vital plot thread (no pun intended) in a future book in the series. Please, YA authors – enough with the love triangles, the instant attraction, the floppy fringes and the lopsided grins. Please?

So, overall, I’d recommend ‘Crewel’ as a good read. It’s quick and enjoyable and interesting, and sets itself up well for its sequel. It’s not perfect, but then what book is?

That’s a good question, actually. Is there such a thing as a perfect book?

Tune in next week to find out… Happy weekend, everyone!

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