FICTION

Spindle and Dagger

Candlewick. Mar. 2020. 304p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781536207774.
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Gr 9 Up–Powerful, heartbreaking, and suspenseful, this is must-read historical fiction. For three years, Elen has lived among the warband that killed her sisters, surviving only by saving the life of Prince Owain of Powys, and convincing him that he is protected only if he keeps her near. Surviving in this state of extreme compromise is just bearable. But then Owain kidnaps Nest, the young wife of his Norman enemy. With the kingdom on the verge of civil war, Elen must choose between staying by Owain’s side or helping Nest escape. Can Elen risk the hard-fought life she has for a chance at freedom? Coats accomplishes a massive feat by providing a fast-paced plot about justice for survivors of sexual abuse while accurately depicting the morals and beliefs of medieval Wales. Elen is a survivor whose trauma inflects the way she navigates her world. Sensory triggers threaten to trip her up and the loss of her two sisters keeps her searching for ways to protect other girls. In the wake of Katniss Everdeen and Arya Stark, the fantasy of weapon-wielding girls risks diminishing women’s historical struggles, but Elen and Nest’s sisterhood and solidarity is grounded within their existing social roles. Their compassion is matched by clear-eyed strategizing and gritty endurance. Concurrently, Coats gives real depth to Elen’s ongoing relationships with the warband, considering boys’ initiation into hypermasculine violence. Pungent language and fresh imagery enrich an already strong narrative.
VERDICT A gripping, emotionally complex medieval novel for the #MeToo era.

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