Those living and studying in the far years of the future will recall 2012 as the boom town era for Young Adult Dystopians. Like young, hopeful '49ers, the influx of success for franchises like Twilight and The Hunger Games draw in hoards of new stories betting on the popular culture hunger for heroines fighting against their own bleak worlds, and four years later, our world itself now has thousands of pessimistic speculations about a painful reality in the future, most likely complete with an unconsciously compliant protagonist-turned-rebel and a love triangle.
If I hadn't already made myself obvious enough: I'll reiterate my thoughts--
if you were playing YA sci-fi bingo, Crewel would get you a full house.
Despite the tropes it uses, though, Crewel stands up through a reread...and an amateur critic.
Crewel's premise is that which plays upon the construction of the states in which we live our own consciousness, the very fabric of our lives, if you will. (You'll see what I did there when you read it.)
Where many ideas, even--sadly enough--my own end at cutthroat competition, raw & uncapped feelings, and corrupt government, Crewel takes things a step further, and puts everything on the line.
In an interesting, unique twist, our characters in the future don't live atop our ruins, the tattered remains of what was once Earth on what was once a prominent city like Beijing. They live in a place the reader still isn't entirely sure is the future, where people still don't know that a place like Earth could have ever even been real.
The story Crewel tells doesn't take place within a failure of our own society nor a restructuring of the things we are, but a structured world, separate from us--and in all senses of the word, unreal.
Albin does a very good job of explaining the mechanics of the place they've crafted. They go into almost excruciating detail about how the things that exist all around the consciousness of the characters are all created, not in the conventional sense, rather in the sense that reality is now of woven threads, meticulously combined by the hands of skilled women; their given name: spinsters. The closest metaphor I could think of would be the idea of living life in a virtual reality, where everything you experience is computer generated, and Albin could just as easily written about that instead, but they chose to put reality into such abstract terms as the idea of people's lives being crafted in the same manner as the silk of an evening gown.
Even more intriguing is the fact that it doesn't work that way. The system, the threads that not only control but make up people's lives, makes mistakes. it makes a lot of them. Distaste is inevitably rooted in people, noncompliance is the automatic result of maintaining on people ultimate control. This system, of weaving living entities into nonliving objects and a non-changing universe, is bound to fail. And maybe Crewel turns into more than just a thriller.
Maybe it's supposed to tell us something.
Perhaps in our current reality, the idea of weaving still applies. Think of all the plans and standards we throw on ourselves in a given day, some not even voluntary, and all the ludicrous, unimportant alternate realities we place ourselves in. We try to exert the same power on our own society as the government system in crewel exerts onto Arras (what this woven fantasy is called.)
And, eventually, cracks start to show in a system like this, a system that is not real, or is reality manipulated, and if we don't stop this control and this manipulation, we'll break down and lose our grip--just like Arras did.
The writing in Crewel also hints to something you could speculate for hours: the question of whether or not a woven reality is really real. The protagonist, Adelice, herself ponders this question a couple times, still unable to cough up an answer whilst everyone around her is certain that the matter is simple and everything is real, even when it's clearly not, at the very least, simple.
I was enticed by the fact that Crewel's setting was more than just reality gone wrong. It's deeper than that, more significant. And it's certainly not just a backdrop. Adelice literally interacts with the fibers of her own existence, and of everyone else's. Crewel is about her wrestle with a woven world, and it's fantastic.
Her wrestle continues as she finds out the implications of a woven world, what happens, essentially, when you need virtual seamstresses to keep it all running.
The way this circle of new rulers, the Guild, entices young girls to want to do all of this, setting an example and glorifying a brutal occupation is certainly something I've seen in dystopias for a long, long time, but this element really doesn't seem out of place at all.
Though, for a narrator that understands the illusion of the fancy dresses, Adelice sure does spend a long time describing some of them.
It's typically overused in YA, and even I, a devoted fan of this book, have to admit that Crewel fell for a cheap one almost every time it tried to emphasize the corrupt lifestyles of reality's manipulators.
Crewel also fell for a cheap one when the attention started shifting to the romantic relationships Adelice begins to develop during her time within the weaving system.
Ignoring, for a moment, the classic love triangle's pervasiveness in fiction, how does the romance in this book contribute to the plot?
In most cases, it really depends. It's a matter of how much time we spend on someone the protagonist is "interested in," whether or not this influences the decisions they make that get them in or out of trouble. One thing is certainly clear, though: there is a big difference between productive and useful subplots and romantic elements that exist in a story only so it can have romance.
On the one hand, the servant-rebel character Adelice falls for, Josten, seems to be an enormous waste of time. The tension scenes are distractions, the epiphanies are weak at best, and Adelice's sweet spots for him seem largely unexplained and unforeshadowed. (Thank god it didn't take up too much.)
Playing devil's advocate, her feelings for Josten are a very powerful influence of the actions she takes and the opinions she comes to hold. Her full-blown anger towards the Guild might even be considered to be amplified when Josten and the her empathy towards him are in play. His weathered life and experiences with the elite of Arras are also large contributing factors for mysteries and discoveries to build upon. Characters like that are hard to discredit completely, since they're practically the breeding ground for disillusionment and insubordination on the part of the protagonist.
Erik, the other point of the love triangle does the exact opposite. not contributing as much emotionally, yet in scenes where he is the focal point end up being intense, action-driven game-changers. Erik's existence as Adelice's love interest opens her up to corruption and hidden ugly truths of the system she lives in. Even if the romance is limited and the book could've gone on pretty well without it, Erik is actually an important part of the story, and scenes with him don't seem to derail from the central story.
It's a subplot with a purpose.
And speaking of plots with purpose, the central story I mentioned earlier? That was fantastic.
Eliciting strong emotions on the part of the reader isn't really Gennifer Albin's general strong suit, but Crewel still excels in being eventful and exciting.
The second half of the story is a barrage twists, revelations, and epiphanies. I use the term 'barrage' to account for the fact that I was completely unprepared. The best statement would be comparing the final ten chapters of crewel to an explosion of awesome. for those of you who frequent the teen section of your bookstore, Crewel may very well be just another future-gone-wrong thriller, but I especially recommend Crewel for people who very seldom venture into young adult, because it is very much of the variety that is worth reading, and possibly thinking about for a while.