A couple of years ago you couldn’t go into the YA section of a bookshop without coming slap up against a dedicated Dark Romance wall with its glowering shelves of Twilite wannabes. (And don’t even get me started on the repackaging of Jane Eyre as a Dark Romance title.) Now, the buzz is all around dystopia, with the runaway success of The Hunger Games and Divergent fuelling a boom in disfunctional heroines on a mission to save the world. I was really excited when Crewel arrived in the post a couple of days ago, as there has been so much hype surrounding it, but I really expect it to surpass Collins and Roth. Well, I was wrong.
Although Crewel serves up many of the familiar dystopian tropes that readers will be familiar from the Hunger Games, Divergent, et al; a spiky heroine Adelice, who needs to conceal her unusual powers, a technocratic world controlled by a secretive and powerful elite, a love triangle… the resulting novel is considerably more than the sum of its parts.
Crewel’s underlying theme, like that of the Hunger Games, is taken from Greek mythology. Where Collins used the Theseus story to underpin her novel, Albin’s plot echoes the ancient myth of the Moirai, the three fates who spin the thread of human life and decide when to bring it to an end. Born on the highly regimented world of Arras (think Polonius for a clue to the plot twist), Adelice is chosen to be a Spinster, one of the sequestered female elite who weaves the fabric that holds their world together. Torn from her horrified family, she struggles against the sinister Guild Ambassador Cormac Patton, finding help in unexpected places as she attempts to piece together what is really happening beneath the surface of Arras.
Alongside the inevitable romance, there is a strong feminist strand to the book which will appeal to its target readership. Adelice is a heroine very much in the mould of Katniss Everdeen and although character delineation in the book is totally subservient to the demands of the action, the contrast between her inner vulnerability and tough exterior readily engages the reader’s sympathy.
Ultimately, however, it is the detail of Albin’s invented world and quality of her writing that lift the whole novel well above the pedestrian and comfortably wins it a place in my top five dystopian titles. Crewel is a real pageturner, I read the whole thing in a single sitting and I’ll be waiting impatiently for the next instalment to find out how Albin moves the action on from the inevitable cliffhanger ending.