In the dystopian world of Arras, Adelice Lewis is able to weave time with matter. Her destiny lies in the Coventry, where those who are talented metaphysical weavers become Spinsters, living a life of luxury and privilege, but firmly under the control of the patriarchal society in which they live, governed by the totalitarian Guild. Adelice’s parents, aware of her talents, have trained her to fail the all-important test which will decide her future. However, despite her best intentions, Adelice is unable to hide her talent and is forcibly removed from her home, her father killed when he tries to conceal her and her sister Amie `remapped’ (her memory wiped clean) and a new family found for her. Adelice determines to fight the system which has destroyed her family and imprisoned her in a tawdry gilded cage.
Albin captures her readers in this first section but the novel does not always realise its enormous potential. The world of Arras is convincingly and skilfully constructed but the characters and their motivations are not always credibly formed. It is not clear, for example, from where Erik’s sudden devotion to Adelice springs. When Patton tells her she will be his wife, this sits uneasily with the earlier dictate that the Creweller does not marry. These anomalies accrue and chip away at the many merits of the novel.
Perhaps most incomprehensible is the fact that Adelice herself is never fully developed and so Albin’s repeated plot mantra that she is working to effect change, to break the stranglehold of the Guild and rescue her sister is never carried through. She is repeatedly urged to be a force for change but instead, disappointingly, she becomes part of the love triangle which is at the centre of much of the book and too much of her energy and rebellious spirit – clearly evident in the opening section – are dissipated. Adelice’s astonishing abilities could have been used subversively to vanquish evil, but instead she often uncharacteristically runs from the fray, hiding behind fear or love or confusion.
At the end of the book, the stage is very obviously set for at least one sequel-perhaps even a film. The narrative seems to have been shaped with these ideas in mind. Its early startling originality dissolved as the book progressed – one can only hope that the second book will explore in more depth the themes so tantalisingly toyed with in the first, only to be neglected.