Look! It’s a fiber-related dystopian fantasy/sci-fi novel!
Crewel. Crewel World Book 1. by Gennifer Albin.
Albin takes some modern teen dystopia tropes and mixes them up with her own take on Greek mythology. Arras is an extremely patriarchal world, where most women are assigned work as secretaries, teachers, or nurses, with male bosses. They are assigned beauty routines and told how many children they may have. Marriage is required by 17, strictly through marriage profiles, as families live in gender-segregated neighborhoods to help enable the strict purity standards. The lucky few who escape this life are called Spinsters. They never marry and are given the best in clothing, food, and up-to-date beauty procedures as a reward for their work, weaving the world of Arras on their looms. Adelice has known since she was eight and started seeing the weave of the world around her that she had the skills – but her parents have trained her to fail at the tests that would take her away from them forever. Except that, during the last test, she can’t make herself fail and is taken anyway. Her father is killed trying to cover her escape, her mother and sister taken captive, while she is still taken to the Coventry to be trained as a Spinster.
Once at the Coventry, Adelice quickly learns both that her talents are unusual even among Spinsters, and that those in power at the Coventry will stop at nothing to gain her cooperation, even wiping out an entire girl’s school when she refuses to pull out the thread of a life that is starting to fray. But not everything is black and white. The woman in charge of recruits, Maela, is sadistic and power-hungry, while her mentor, Enora, is kind if reticent. Very oddly, there are two boys on staff – the gardener/valet Jost and Maela’s personal assistant and pretty boy Erik, both of whom befriend Adelice. Jost is both kind and seems to know about underground resistance to the powers that be, while Erik charms Adelice despite her belief that he’s nothing but Maela’s lap dog. Adelice knows from the beginning that her parents must have had good reasons for trying to keep her out of the Coventry, but finding out what those were and what exactly is rotten in Arras is difficult. She must be trusted enough that she can continue her Spinster training, and despite everything, she is deeply attracted to the beauty of the weave. But the more powerful she shows herself to be, the more tightly she will be controlled. And they have her sister.
I was first attracted to this because of the fiber arts aspect. She does mix her fiber metaphors a bit, as Spinsters ought to produce thread, not weaving – but I can forgive her that, as the conceit seems to work, for the most part. Both Adelice and the reader have to ask what is real, if Spinsters can pull out the thread of a person, give them different memories, and weave them back into a different family. It came off as fairly light most of the time, which made the few moments of unexpected violence that much more powerful. I could have done without the obligatory love triangle, especially since her attraction to Erik seemed dubious at best. As far as appropriateness, there’s nothing to make it inappropriate for younger teens or advanced middle grade readers in the way of sex or violence. I’ll note that there is a lesbian couple, mostly as this is still relatively rare in genre fiction like this, but sadly, we don’t really get to see much of that couple’s romance. For those who like their series complete, this does end with a jolt, and the second book is not due out until October. It probably won’t go on my all-time favorites list, but this was a quite enjoyable dystopian-with-romance.