SPINDLE AND DAGGER, by J. Anderson Coats, Candlewick, March 10, 2020, Hardcover, $18.99 (young adult)
J. Anderson Coats latest novel, Spindle and Dagger, follows a Welsh girl who twists the truth in order to survive among a medieval warband.
Wales, 1109. Three years ago, a warband raided Elen’s home. Her baby sister could not escape the flames. Her older sister fought back and almost killed the warband’s leader, Owain ap Cadwgan, before being killed herself. Despite Elen’s own sexual assault at the hands of the raiders, she saw a chance to live and took it. She healed Owain’s wound and spun a lie: Owain ap Cadwgan, son of the king of Powys, cannot be killed, not by blade nor blow nor poison. Owain ap Cadwgan has the protection of Saint Elen, as long as he keeps her namesake safe from harm and near him always.
For three years, Elen has had plenty of food, clothes to wear, and a bed to sleep in that she shares with the man who brought that warband to her door. Then Owain abducts Nest, the wife of a Norman lord, and her three children, triggering full-out war. As war rages, and her careful lies threaten to unravel, Elen begins to look to Nest and see a different life — if she can decide, once and for all, where her loyalties lie. —Synopsis provided by Candlewick
Spindle and Dagger is a dark tale. It’s set in a violent time of history where death, destruction and rape (never described in detail) were more common than not — think Outlander but set 600 years prior. If any of these elements are triggers for you, then you should not read this book.
Even though it’s told in first person, Spindle and Dagger almost feels like a nonfiction work. Although historians believe Owain probably did abduct Nest, Elen’s story is fictional. Perhaps this is why it took me about half the novel to really become immersed. Pacing in the first half is slow, and there were times when I did consider putting the book down. As Elen’s character develops away from Owain’s shadow, she takes on new life, and it’s this spark that drew me in.
Spindle and Dagger is an interesting look at medieval culture. Due to its dark themes, I would suggest it for older readers — high school and older.
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