Susie's Reviews > Crewel

Crewel by Gennifer Albin
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Jun 07, 2012

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Read on June 07, 2012

** spoiler alert ** After hearing about this book at the Book Expo of America, I was intrigued by the Editor’s description of "Handmaid's Tale" meets "The Hunger Games" and because I can never get enough of a good YA dystopian, I had to give it a try.

The primary idea of the world in which our “heroine” lives is fascinating. It's an illusion of a world, in which everything happens through this intense, matrix-like weave, that is constantly being woven on looms by the Spinsters, the only people adept enough to continuously weave the world around them. Adelice, the main character and narrator, has a special ability to weave without the loom and this is explored a little, though I expect there is more to come (very Giver-esque, as she is the only person who can become the next Creweller). The Spinsters are at the top of the female-hierarchy, which means privileges that others cannot have, but in a male-dominated society (here comes "Handmaid's Tale"), even being at the top of this hierarchy pales in comparison to the power given to the men. Non-spinster women are selected for jobs within the community, that, although important in the scheme of things, have no real authority or control, even over their own lives. As a basic set up, I was completely intrigued and couldn't wait for the action to happen...

But, I waited, and waited. And waited. To be fair, there are exciting moments, such as when the main character is taken from her family in the beginning of the book to begin her training as a Spinster, and she sees her father's dead body in a bag, killed while trying to protect her. But upon arriving, and after going through a period of imprisonment and week of waiting in a pretty room, Adelice settles into this life in the Conventry and seems to accept her plight. There is constant encouragement from supporting characters that she should run or find a way to fight the system, but she takes no interest in these suggestions and merely seeks to be reunited with her sister (a Katniss-Prim relationship, without the emotion, or connection to her sister). The relationship with her sister lacks any basis for the love Adelice appears to have. In fact, during the few moments in which they actually interact at the beginning of book, Amy, the sister, is not likeable. She disagrees with her parents and they treat her like a little child in that they allow her to be disrespectful. She seems spoiled and has little to no connection to Adelice. When we see her again, she has been "re-mapped" (a great brainwashing concept) and she seems pretty happy with her new life; maybe Adelice should leave her alone? Every example that Adelice gives as to why she loves her sister, shows that they are very different and that Amy doesn't want to be rescued from the life she believes that she could have.

This lack of connection with the main character and some of the supporting characters really ruined the entire book. We are supposed to care about Enora, Adelice’s mentor, but we only see her on a few occasions, and at random intervals, before we discover she has a deep secret and ultimately kills herself. One would think that Adelice would be devastated that her mentor has died so brutally and suddenly, but Adelice seems dumbfounded for a moment, and then the attention slips back to her own troubles. Enora could have been a powerful character, but is instead thrust into the background as Adelice’s fashion designer and serves only to “show” Adelice the way around the Coventry compound and to instill in the reader the ongoing conflict in Arras regarding homosexual relationships. We never really get to know Enora the way the author assumes that we do and therefore feel as apathetic as Adelice. If we are supposed to pity the narrator because she has lost the closest thing she has to a female friend, I actually feel nothing but agitation. We discover that Enora has worked hard in her attempts to protect Adelice, but Adelice is so incredibly self-centered, that she assumes Enora was just doing her duty in protecting her, and has sacrificed nothing.

Maela could have been the perfect villain, but she is so inconsistent that you lose faith in her ability to be “bad” by the end. At one point, Maela callously “rips” hundreds of lives from the loom in order to display her evil nature, and the one session of torture, which she forces Adelice to endure, is genius. But then Maela fades to the background and by the end, Adelice taunts her as she cowers in a corner in Loricel’s studio. Maela is presented as evil and ambitious, willing to do whatever it takes to rise to power,(even though there is no power to be had for a woman in this world), but at times, Maela reacts like a spoiled, hurt, little school girl, characteristics that just do not flow together.

Eric and Jost are the only somewhat likeable characters. Jost has a dark past and wants to engage in some revolutionary battle - but he has no plan. Eric seems to want to rise to the top and is probably the most consistent, as he actually has a plan to help himself, but only himself. Jost is made to seem much older than Adelice, at least maturity-wise, in that he has already been married, had a baby, and lost both his wife and child. I cannot understand why he would fall in love with Adelice, someone that has not endured any hardship in comparison. In fact, both Eric and Jost fall for (surprise, surprise) Adelice, which is in itself, completely baffling, as Adelice has no personality. Sometimes she is a naive innocent, while there is one single mention that she is actually (secretly) well-read and intelligent. She doesn’t approve of the Spinster lifestyle, but is content to wait around for her stylist to dress her and make her up. She never seems to have a plan and is reminded again and again that she needs to come up with one, but just can never seem to figure something out. As a result, she puts everyone in danger as they try to cover for her mistakes. Only when she is with Patton, does she seem to have any sort of temper, but there is never any follow through. He tells her that she must become his wife (a plot twist that doesn’t make ANY sense when we discover that only Adelice can become the next Creweller) and she cries, instead of fights. She submits to this lifestyle whenever faced with any adversity. When something interesting happens to her, she goes back to her room and stays there for a week and does nothing. This author took the love-triangle of “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight” and the personalities of Bella (who arguably has little personality herself) and Katniss and attempted to squash them together into the inconsistent and annoying Adelice.

I don’t know what this book wants to be. Is it a criticism of a society that does not allow people the right to have free will, including the ability to love whomever you choose? Or is it a remark on the dangers of a male-dominated society? Is Adelice a feminist and/or equalist who wants to create change, or does she want to run away and leave it all behind, as she manages to do by the end of the book? I wish there was more focus on the weave; I wish that Adelice would explore her capabilities more, because there is something powerful there. Adelice’s mood swings need to go away and the author needs to focus on one thing at a time. I am not suggesting that Ms. Albin make the plot simple and strip away the intricacies; rather, just focus on one thing at a time. Adelice has so many problems: she’s the only candidate to become the next Creweller, therefore she is valuable; she wants to save her sister from the clutches of Patton and from her re-mapped life; she loves Jost and wants to help him find his child; she needs to avoid all interaction with Maela (and now we have Pyrana to worry about); and she needs to bring about the destruction of this entire male-centric world, while being currently stuck on earth. These are interesting plot points! The problem is, I have a feeling the author is going to let some of these interesting problems fall to the wayside in the next book, because I am sure that Adelice will only encounter more issues, now that she is powerless on earth. The best thing Ms. Albin can do, is maintain some consistency with these characters and stop focusing on the love triangle so much; it’s a tired concept! It's going to be difficult now that Adelice is stuck on earth with Eric and Jost, but she must try! Ms. Albin should tie up some loose ends so that the bigger issues don't consume these things that have been addressed in the first book. Give the main character more consistent personality traits. As a reader, I don't want to anticipate what will happen, but I like to think that I know the main character well enough, especially going into a second book of a trilogy, that I can take some joy in her actions. If she is a fighter, then give her a semblance of a plan. If she is merely selfish and only wants to protect the people around her, show hesitancy in her personality and actions at being thrust into the role of Creweller or (possibly) the savior of Arras. She is bold and confused, selfish and generous, and totally inconsistent and unlikable. Give us a heroine that we can cheer for and give her some direction!
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Jason Thanks for your review. I actually found the triangle, protagonist, and familial relationships in Hunger Games to be not very good, so for this book to make them look good gives me great pause. And the glowing reviews for Crewel are incredibly vague to the point that I don’t get any sense of what the book is like; the specific points you address are about elements I find very important in my reading material. I guess my October dystopian read will be the last sequel to the actual Giver (though the previous sequel was on the average side).

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