Crewel was published in the UK by Faber & Faber on October 18th and here's what it's all about:
Incapable. Awkward. Artless.
That's what the other girls whisper behind her back. But sixteen-year-old Adelice Lewys has a secret - she wants to fail. Gifted with the ability to weave time and matter, Adelice is exactly what the Guild is looking for, and in the world of Arras, being chosen as a Spinster is everything a girl could want. It means privilege, power and beauty, the ability to embroider the very fabric of life. It also means entering a world secrets and lethal intrigue. But unlike the others, Adelice isn't interested in controlling what people eat, where they live and how many children they have and will do anything to hide her talent from the Guild. But when she slips up during her final test, her gift is identified. Now she has one hour to eat her mum's overcooked dinner. One hour to listen to her sister's school gossip and laugh at her dad's stupid jokes. One hour to pretend everything is OK. And one hour to escape. Because once you become a Spinster, there's no turning back . .
Gennifer Albin holds a master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Missouri, and founded the tremendously popular blog theconnectedmom.com. She lives in Lenexa, Kansas, with her husband and two children. Learn more about her at genniferalbin.com.
CREWEL by Gennifer Albin
First published in the US by Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers in 2012 First published in the UK in this edition in 2012 by Faber and Faber Limited Bloomsbury House 74–77 Great Russell Street, London, wc1b 3da All rights reserved © Gennifer Albin, 2012 The right of Gennifer Albin to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with Section 77 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library
As they pull me from the escape tunnel, someone jabs a needle in my wounded leg. I thrash as the liquid burns through my calf, but suddenly I’m calm. When one of the officers helps me stand in the damp basement, I smile at him. I can’t remember being happier. ‘Patch that up,’ barks a tall official coming down the basement stairs. He’s not like the others, who are dressed in typical soldier’s regalia. He is older and very handsome. His jaw is too smoothly sculpted to be natural, but the slight grey peppering his styled hair gives away his age. His nose, eyes, and teeth are too perfect, and I bet he’s been taking advantage of renewal patches. He has the kind of face they put on the Stream to read the news. I blink dreamily at him as a medic begins cleaning the wound from the claw. A group of women scurry down behind the official and begin wiping my face and combing my hair.
It feelsso nice I want to fall asleep. The only thing keeping me awake is the cold, gritty concrete under my bare feet. I’ve lost my shoes in the struggle. ‘You gave her too much,’ the official grumbles. ‘I said get her Stream-ready, not dose her out of her mind.’ ‘I’m sorry. She was really fighting us,’ one of the officers tells him. I can hear the grin in his voice. ‘Fix it.’ A moment later another needle pricks my arm, and I stop smiling. I’m still calm, but the euphoria is fading. ‘Adelice Lewys?’ the official asks, and I nod. ‘Do you understand what’s going on?’ I try to say yes but nothing comes out, so I bob my head once more. ‘There’s a Stream crew upstairs and most of your neighbourhood. I’d prefer we didn’t have to drag you off looking like a loose thread, but if you try that again I’ll have him dose you. Do you understand what I’m saying?’ He points to the medic who has finished healing my wound. I manage to squeak, ‘Yes.’ ‘Good girl. We’ll deal with this later,’ he says, gesturing to the escape tunnel. ‘Your job is to smile and look thrilled to be selected. Can you do that?’ I stare at him. The official sighs and cocks his head to activate the microscopic complant embedded over his left ear. The device automatically connects you to any other complant user or wall-communication panel. I’ve seen men in the metro chatting on them, but my father’s role as a mechanic doesn’t warrant the privilege of having one implanted.
A moment later I’m privy to the man’s one-sided conversation. ‘Hannox, do you have them? No, hold her.’ Turning back to me, he points to the hole my mother and Amie disappeared through. ‘Let’s pretend my colleague has someone you love very much in his custody, and your performance for the Stream crew decides whether she lives or dies. Can you look thrilled now?’ I muster up the brightest smile I can and flash it at him. ‘Not bad, Adelice.’ But then he frowns and pushes away the grooming crew. ‘Are you idiots? This is a retrieval. She can’t wear cosmetics!’ I look away as he continues to berate the aestheticians, and search for signs of my father. He’s nowhere, but as my eyes scan the wall I can’t make out any other cracks that could hide a passage. Of course, until twenty minutes ago I hadn’t known about even the first two passages. ‘Are we clear?’ the official asks the medic. ‘Give her one more minute.’ ‘I’m fine,’ I say with a smile, practising for the Stream crew. But as soon as I speak, my stomach contracts hard and sends my dinner back up my throat. I double over and retch up pot roast and frothy cream. ‘Fantastic,’ the official bellows. ‘Can’t I even get a competent squad?’ ‘She’ll be fine now,’ the medic says, backing up a few steps. The official glowers at him and then turns and leads me to the stairs. At the last step, he grabs my arm and leans in close. ‘Make it look real. Her life depends on it.’
I don’t have the guts to ask him if he means my mother or my sister; his answer will only tell me who is dead. I stagger up the stairs and blink hard against the bright lights of the main floor. Every lamp is on and the kitchen and dining room have been ransacked. As we march through the dining room on our way to the front door, I slip on something dark and sticky. One of the officers catches my arm as I stumble, and I snap my head down to the spot on the floor. It’s nearly black and pools out from a large, stiff bag. I crumple back against the man behind me. ‘No time for that now, sweetheart,’ he hisses. ‘You’ve got a show to put on or we’re going to need more of those bags.’ I can’t tear my eyes from the bag, so he leads me away. I try to tell him there’s blood on my feet, but he’s already barking more orders at his squad. ‘Halt,’ commands a guard at the door. The official steps forward, runs his eyes over me, sighs, and steps out onto the porch to thunderous applause. I turn away and focus on the long black bag, but a guard moves over to the table, blocking my view. I glance over to see he’s eating the cake. ‘Hey,’ I call, and everyone looks at me in surprise. ‘That’s half a week’s rations! Leave it for my family.’ The officer’s eyes dart to his companion, and I see it on their faces – pity – but he sets down the cake. ‘Blessings, Romen! I’m Cormac Patton and . . .’ The rude official addresses the crowd from my porch. More applause. He waits a moment for it to calm down.
‘He always has time for applause,’ an aesthetician notes drily. ‘Blessings, Arras. I’m Cormac Patton,’ her companion mimics him in a low voice, and they laugh until a guard shushes them. Cormac Patton. Coventry Ambassador for the Guild of Twelve and the Stream’s number-one pretty boy. How could I have not recognised him? They must have really drugged me. Or maybe I’m not used to celebrities hanging out in my basement. Even my mom has a thing for him. But I don’t see the appeal. Sure, he’s perpetually clad in a black, double-breasted tuxedo, and very handsome, but he has to be at least forty. Or maybe even older, since I can’t remember a time in my life when he looked anything but forty. I can’t comprehend that he’s standing on my porch right now. ‘We are privileged to call to service Adelice Lewys,’ Cormac’s voice bellows. An officer pushes me out next to him. ‘May Arras flourish at her touch.’ The crowd echoes back the blessing and colour floods my cheeks. I paste the bright smile on my face and will it to stick. ‘Wave,’ Cormac instructs me through gritted teeth, his own smile undiminished as he gives the command. I wave shyly and keep beaming at the crowd. A moment later, officers surround and flank us, escorting us to a waiting motocarriage. The crowd swarms into a mob and all I see are hands. The officers hold most of them back, and I shrink away from the mob. Everywhere I look, fingers claw at me, grabbing for a bit of my skirt or a caress of my hair.
I’m breathing faster, and beside me Cormac frowns. The drugs must not be as strong as he thought. I think of his threat and force myself to look excited. The motocarriage is longer than any of the motopacts I’ve seen in Romen. I’ve seen ones like this on the Stream. Motopacts are daily cars to drive into the metro, but motocarriages like this have chauffeurs. I fix my eyes on it; I only have to make it that far and then this public charade will be over. An officer ushers me to the rear side door and helps me in. As the door shuts me safely away from the cheering crowd, I scowl. ‘That’s much more attractive,’ Cormac mutters as he slides in next to me. ‘At least you’re the last retrieval.’ ‘Had a long day?’ I ask harshly. ‘No, but I can’t imagine dragging your deadweight around much longer,’ he snaps back as he pours himself a glass of amber liquid. He doesn’t bother to offer me any. I lapse into silence. Deadweight. The image of the body bag lying casually on my dining-room floor floats into my head and hot tears prick my eyes, threatening to spill over. I stare out of the window so he won’t see me cry. The glass is tinted and the crowd can no longer watch us, but they’re still milling around. Neighbours talk animatedly, pointing to our house. Several heads incline, relaying the news to people far away on their complants. We haven’t had a retrieval in Romen in ten years. Tomorrow I’ll be on Romen’s morning Stream. I wonder what they’ll say about my parents. My sister. Cormac is downing the last drops of his cocktail when his head cocks to the side to take a call. ‘Here,’ he grunts.
He’s quiet but soon indifference turns to mild annoyance. ‘Clean it,’ he says. ‘No, clean all of it.’ His head shifts back down, disconnecting from the call, and he looks at me. ‘Lucky girl.’ I shrug, not willing to betray my feelings at the moment. I’m not sure what cleaning is, and from the way he growled the order, I’m not sure I want to know. ‘Oh, you have no idea,’ he says. ‘How’s your leg?’ I glance down to the gashes the claw left and find they’re gone. ‘Fine, I guess.’ I try to keep the surprise out of my voice but can’t. ‘Renewal patch,’ he informs me. ‘One of the many perks you’ll have as a Spinster.’ I don’t respond, and he returns to the crystal bottle for another drink. My eyes wander back to the window. We’re nearly out of Romen, and it’s hard to believe I’ll never come back here. The view grows hazy and my eyelids droop; the drugs they administered earlier are making me sleepy. But right before my eyes close, the street disappears behind us, shimmering and fading into nothing. An officer shakes me awake when we get to the Nilus Station and hands me a pair of shoes. Another escorts me to the toilet and stands guard. Afterwards, I’m taken to a small private powder room and given a simple white shift to change into. They take away everything I was wearing before. I dress as slowly as possible, trying to sift through the fog in my head. I can’t put off going out into the station for long.
The Nilus Station is situated in the capital of the Western Sector and it rebounds travellers to the other three capital cities in Arras. It’s also strictly policed. Only the most important businessmen can travel between the four sectors; someone like my dad wouldn’t qualify. I’ve never been out of Romen’s city limits before today. I should be excited, but all I feel is a dull twinge at the thought. Cormac is lounging in a turquoise chair outside the powder room. ‘Ever been to a rebound station, Adelice?’ Cormac asks conversationally as he stands to greet me when I step back into the station lobby. I shake my head. I’m not eager to act like we’re friends. ‘Didn’t think so. It’s pretty rare these days for some citizens to get border passes.’ He smiles, and for the first time I notice a crease in his flawless skin. By ‘some citizens’ he means women and service workers. Cormac sets the pace, and I stroll with him along the periphery of the station. There’s a small booth offering shoe shines, a coat-check stand, and a little café. He gestures for me to follow him into the restaurant, and we’re led up to the second-floor mezzanine by a waiter. From here we can watch the travellers waiting for their rebound appointments in the great marble hall. Even though it’s busy, the sounds of travel – shoes clicking, complant conversations, rustling Bulletins – fill the space and bounce back across it. The roar of energy is nearly deafening. ‘Miss, I’ll need to see your privilege card,’ the waiter says, sneering at me.
I glance down at my simple dress and realise I don’t even have my citizen ID with me, but Cormac speaks before I can make excuses. ‘She’s my guest. Do you need to see my PC?’ It’s more a challenge than a question. The waiter glances at him and the haughty smile evaporates. ‘Ambassador Patton, I apologise. I didn’t recognise you. I only saw the girl.’ Something about the way he says the girl makes me feel dirty. ‘No need to apologise. You don’t get many girls in here, I imagine.’ He laughs, and the waiter joins him. ‘We weren’t informed there would be a retrieval squad travelling through, or we would have been prepared,’ the young man assures him. ‘It was a last-minute retrieval, so the usual call-aheads weren’t possible.’ ‘So she’s a . . .’ He eyes me admiringly. ‘She is an Eligible. Treat her as you would a Spinster.’ There’s an edge of warning to Cormac’s voice, and the young man nods solemnly. He waits on me hand and foot, although I’m not allowed to order for myself. And as if a hovering waiter isn’t annoying enough, every man in the place stares at me. It’s the shameless gaze of the patrons that provokes a startling realisation. Glancing back at the bustling travellers, I see the outline of suits and fedoras. The only other woman in the station takes coats at the stand I noticed earlier. Apparently only men are allowed to eat here. I knew rebounding was reserved for important businessmen, but I never realised that even the station was segregated.
I rub my hands on the hem of my shift, aware of how warm it is here. ‘Lecherous lot,’ Cormac says, and chuckles. ‘Actually, you don’t see many women out from behind the desk these days. Not without their husbands.’ It takes a minute for me to realise he means me. I’m the woman out and about. ‘I’d suggest eating. I know you can’t have much left in you after that stupid medic screwed up. You would think they would know how much juice to give a 52 kg girl, and yet it’s always too much or too little. You’re lucky though – the Nilus Station has a great café.’ He tips his head back toward the kitchen door. ‘It might be a while before you eat again.’ ‘I’m not very hungry,’ I say. My lamb chop sits untouched on the plate in front of me. Cormac’s meal is similarly neglected, for all his advice to eat, but only because he’s nursing a bourbon. Cormac leans against the table and looks at me. ‘I figured as much. Take my advice though, and eat something.’ I think of the dining-room table and white cake sitting on it, the puddle of black blood under its legs, and shake my head. The only thing I’m hungry for is answers. ‘Eat, and I’ll tell you what you want to know.’ I take a couple of bites, knowing I won’t be able to eat if he answers me first anyway, but as soon as I swallow, I turn my attention back to him. ‘Are they dead?’ The words come out flat, and in that moment I know I’ve lost hope. ‘Your father is,’ Cormac admits in a low voice. There’s no remorse in his face. It’s a fact.
I look down and take a deep breath. ‘And my mother and sister?’ ‘Your sister is in custody, but I have no news on your mother.’ ‘Then she got away?’ I ask breathlessly, wondering how they managed to catch Amie. Despite the news about my father, I feel a tug of hope. ‘She got away for now. You’ll be more upset later when the Valpron wears off.’ ‘Maybe I’m stronger than you think,’ I challenge, although I’m all too aware of the numbness throughout my body. ‘That would be a surprise. Valpron is a calming agent.’ Cormac’s eyes narrow, and he sets down his fork. ‘What was your plan anyway?’ ‘Plan?’ ‘Don’t be stupid, Adelice,’ he snarls. ‘They found four tunnels under your house that lead to places around your neighbourhood. Where were you going to go?’ ‘I have no idea. I didn’t know about them.’ It’s the truth. I’m not sure I could lie right now if I wanted to, but I’d never guessed exactly how far my parents were willing to go to keep me from the Guild. How long ago had they dug those four tunnels, and how had they got away with it? From the way Cormac is staring at me, I’m sure he believes I know more than I’m telling. Cormac snorts, but resumes eating. Or rather, drinking. ‘Sure you didn’t. Just like you didn’t try to fail at the testing.’ My eyes snap up to his, and I wonder how much he knows about this, but I don’t say anything else.
‘I’ve seen the surveillance Stream on your testing. The moment you wove was an accident,’ he continues. ‘I had no idea what I was doing,’ I say, and in truth, I didn’t. I’d never used a loom to weave before and something about seeing the fabric of life – the very raw materials that composed the space around me – laid out before me, rattled me. We’d been measured and questioned, and had practised basic tasks like weaving actual fabric, but none of my classmates had much success with it. It took a certain talent they didn’t seem to possess, and I’d spent my whole childhood learning to ignore mine. ‘I doubt that,’ Cormac says, setting down his glass. ‘I know it was an accident because the loom wasn’t on. A girl who can weave through time without a loom is a rare thing. It takes a very special girl to do that. We almost retrieved you right there.’ I want to sink under the table. I’d known I’d given myself away, but not how much I’d revealed. This is my fault. ‘Fine. Don’t say anything. There’s no way your mother got out,’ he tells me coldly. ‘We had to clean the area after the Stream crew left.’ ‘Clean?’ I think back to the complant conversation I overheard in the motocarriage. It was short and he was mad, but the rest is lost in a haze. As I sift back further, the evening comes in bursts of images. Eating with my family. A white cake. Cold, dark dirt. ‘I love how innocent you are. It’s really just . . . delightful.’ He smirks, and this time I see tiny crinkles around his eyes. ‘The section has been cleaned and rewoven. No use trying to explain why a whole family went missing, especially not with the recent accident.’
‘My sister’s teacher,’ I murmur. ‘Mrs Swander,’ he confirms. ‘What a mess, but not significant enough to justify a full cleaning.’ I try to wrap my mind around what he’s saying. The Guild transports food, assigns roles and houses, and oversees the addition of new babies to the population. But Arras hasn’t had an accident or crime in years. At least not that I know of. ‘Wait, are you saying you removed the memories of all the people in Romen?’ ‘Not exactly,’ he says, downing the last of his bourbon. ‘We adjusted them a bit. When people try to remember your family, it will be a bit blurry. Your history now indicates you were an only child and your parents have been given clearance to move closer to the Coventry – that’s if anyone bothers to check up on you, but they won’t.’ ‘You made it all disappear,’ I whisper. ‘It’s easy to adjust at night thanks to the curfew,’ he says, taking a bite of steak. ‘I’m sure it sounds horrible to you, but there’s no need to cause massive panic.’ ‘You mean’ – I lean in and keep my voice low – ‘there’s no need to let people know you murdered their neighbours.’ The wicked grin fades from his face. ‘Some day you’ll understand, Adelice, that everything I do ensures people are safe. Cleaning a whole town isn’t something I take lightly, and it’s not easy. Most Spinsters don’t have the talent for it. You’d be wise to remember you’re the reason I had to order it.’ ‘I thought Arras didn’t have to worry about safety.
Isn’t that why you need girls like me?’ I challenge, gripping the butter knife next to my plate. ‘Like I said, your ignorance is truly delightful.’ But he doesn’t seem amused any more. Instead his black eyes blaze with repressed fury. ‘Spinsters do ensure safety, by following my orders. It’s not all parties and loom work. The Guild demands loyalty. Never forget that.’ I can hear the warning in his voice not to push this further, so I relax my hand and the knife clatters back to the table. ‘I hope you had enough to eat,’ he snaps, rising from his seat. Apparently two bites of food is enough to appease him. I follow. I don’t have any other choice. A girl from our neighbourhood was labelled a deviant a few years back. It’s a very rare thing, since everyone in Arras lives by a zero-tolerance policy for misbehaviour. But my dad told me that occasionally a child is brought up on charges and taken away. He said sometimes they come back, but most don’t. The little girl came back, but she was always in a daze, never quite in the moment with the rest of us. That’s how my neighbours will be when they think of me. It’s as though I don’t exist, and even the meds still coursing through my body can’t block the tingle of pain that runs down to my fingertips when I think of it. The meal was a courtesy, it turns out, because we don’t have rebound appointments. We don’t need them. I’m torn between feeling guilty that he was being nice to me and wondering what his motives were.
I trail Cormac as he strides past the line of men waiting on deck for their scheduled departures. A few grumble as we pass but the others shush them. ‘I need to bump two spots,’ Cormac tells the man at the counter, flashing him his PC. I have no doubt this man knows who he is, but he takes the card and studies it for a moment before keying in a code on the companel, a communications system built into the wall behind him. A moment later, a young woman dressed in a snug sky-blue suit steps out from the corridor behind the desk and leads us past the counter. ‘Ambassador Patton, will you require a refreshment while you rebound?’ She’s all bubbles and pink lipstick. ‘I ate. Thank you,’ he tells her with a wink. She doesn’t ask me. Cormac’s rebound compartment is before my own, and I half expect him to disappear through the door without another word to me, but he turns and sizes me up one last time. ‘Adelice, I suggest you get some rest during your rebound.’ I keep my eyes focused on the end of the corridor. He’s acting like my dad. Telling me when to eat, when to sleep. But he’s the reason I need a surrogate father in the first place. ‘You know you don’t deserve the way they’re going to treat you.’ His voice sounds concerned but the Valpron must be wearing off, because I can barely keep myself from spitting at him. I don’t need his kindness. ‘You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into,’ he says, reading my face. He sighs and opens the chamber door. ‘I hope you learn to listen before it’s too late.’ I don’t bother to respond. I don’t want his arrogant advice.
I watch him fixedly until the door shuts behind him. My guide shepherds me to the next compartment and follows me in. ‘This is the first time you’ve rebounded,’ she says matter-of-factly as she ushers me to a single chair on a small platform in the centre of the room. ‘You’re likely to experience some nausea or vomiting.’ I sit down awkwardly and take in the sparse room. ‘Here.’ She reaches around me and buckles a strap against my waist. ‘What’s that for?’ ‘We need to keep your movement confined to a minimal space during the rebounding process. Usually you can read or eat or drink,’ she tells me, unfolding a small tray from the arm of the chair. ‘But no getting up.’ I glance down at the straps, and raise an eyebrow. ‘I’m sorry.’ She lifts her heavily lined eyes, and I can see she means it. ‘I’m not authorised to give you anything.’ ‘It’s okay,’ I say with a shrug. ‘I get the impression girls are rare around here.’ The girl adjusts my straps and checks the buckle before she steps back. She hesitates and checks the countdown on the wall: I have two minutes until the rebound will begin. ‘That’s it though.’ She pauses and glances around the room. ‘I probably should shut up.’ ‘What?’ The medication is definitely wearing off, because now I’m holding back panic. ‘Yes, women very rarely rebound, only Spinsters and Ministers’ wives. But they are given anything they want,’ she whispers.
‘I don’t understand,’ I admit slowly. She leans forward and pretends to adjust the tray. ‘They come in dressed up and we are supposed to give them bulletins and fashion catalogues to peruse. But you . . .’ I stare at her, trying to get what she’s telling me. ‘My directions were to keep you buckled and locked down.’ ‘Locked down?’ ‘Yes.’ She sighs and gives me a sympathetic pat. ‘I’m sorry.’ She reaches behind my back, and a second later, a large helmet woven of thick steel chains clamps down over my head. I cry out, but the sound is muffled. She squeezes my hand once, and I calm a little. Then more metal locks down, binding my wrists. ‘Your rebound will only take an hour,’ she reassures me, although I can barely hear her through the twisted metal. ‘Good luck, Adelice.’ I wish I’d asked her name. The helmet blocks most of the room around me, but I can see through the gaps. It’s an inconsequential room with bare white walls, except for the clock counting down in the corner. The nausea hits first. The floor drops from under me and my stomach turns over, but I don’t fall. The helmet keeps my head perfectly straight and my neck stretched, so I don’t throw up, but I want to. Closing my eyes, I breathe evenly, trying to keep the sickness at bay.
When I open them and peer through the steel wires, the room around me is gone, and I’m surrounded by a shimmering array of lights. The sight calms me and I focus on studying the gleaming strands that comprise the rebound compartment. Glowing beams twist across the room and then long threads of grey knit up through them, crisscrossing over the light into a luminous fabric of gold and silver. Somewhere a girl sits, replacing the weave of the rebound chamber with that of a chamber in a coventry, effectively moving me from one location to the other. I’m travelling hundreds of miles without moving a muscle. It’s a delicate procedure, which is why it’s reserved for the most important people in Arras. The Stream ran a special story vlip about the process a few years ago. Gradually the light disappears and slowly – too slowly – grey walls form in patches around me, and the radiant canvas of the rebound process fades into a concrete room. It takes an eternity before the beams are gone, but when the last flickers into wall, I’m happy to feel the helmet being lifted from my head. A group of sombrely clad officers surrounds me. The one who removed the helmet hesitates at the cuffs on my arms. They ache from being shackled during the trip, and I’m about to tell him so when a young blond in an expensive suit steps forward and holds his hand up. His head is cocked to the side, and I realise he’s on his complant. Despite his obvious youth, he seems to be in charge. He’s the kind of boy my classmates would zero in on in the daily Bulletin and giggle over as they passed his image around. But even this close to him, I only feel curiosity. ‘Sedate her.’ ‘Sir?’ the officer asks in surprise.
‘She wants her sedated,’ the blond boy orders. ‘You want to ask her why?’ The officer shakes his head, but as a medic rushes forward with a syringe I can see the apology in the boy’s blindingly blue eyes.