Cover image for Spindle and dagger
Title:
Spindle and dagger
ISBN:
9781536207774
Edition:
First edition.
Physical Description:
291 pages : genealogical table, maps ; 22 cm
Summary:
"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" --
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Summary

Summary

This rich literary novel follows Elen, who must live a precarious lie in order to survive among the medieval Welsh warband that killed her family.

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. J. Anderson Coats's evocative prose immerses the reader in a dark but ultimately affirming tale of power and survival.


Author Notes

J. Anderson Coats is the author of books and short stories for children and young adults. Her first novel, the critically acclaimed The Wicked and the Just, is also a story of medieval Wales. J. Anderson Coats lives and works as a librarian near Seattle, Washington.


Reviews 3

School Library Journal Review

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.--Katherine Magyarody, Texas A&M University, College Station


Kirkus Review

An unruly, bloodthirsty band of warriors rampages through 12th-century Wales.They are led by the murderous Owain ap Cadwgan, who attempts to vanquish the equally warlike Norman invaders headed by Gerald of Windsor. The narrator, Owain's girlfriend, Elen, saves her skin by convincing him that he cannot be harmed because he is protected by her namesake, Saint Elen. Elen is dragged along, mostly against her will, with the war band. She has PTSD from an earlier incident that is revealed in brief flashbacks to have been the death of her baby sister. The story reaches a climax when Owain abducts Nest, his enemy's wife, and her children. Owain's aggressive action gets him in trouble with his father, Cadwgan, and Owain is banished to Ireland with Elen in tow. Elen is heartbroken to be separated from Nest's children, with whom she has formed a close bond. Although at times a little hard to follow, this gritty narrative brings a little-known period in history to life. A historical note gives the context and sources for this story, which is loosely based on the "Chronicle of the Princes," written some time after the events it relates. Frontmatter includes a chart of the Welsh royal houses, a map of Wales in 1109-1110, and a pronunciation guide, useful given the inclusion of some Welsh words, presented in italics in the text.Dramatic and intense; not for the fainthearted. (Historical fiction. 12-16) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

As her family lies dead and the farm burns around them, Elen saves herself from a similar fate with her quick wits, which sets her on a new path as the companion-protector to roguish Prince Owain. Twelfth-century Wales is filled with conflict, fraught and unruly, and when Owain decides to revenge himself against a Norman lord by kidnapping his wife (Nest) and children, Elen does all she can to befriend, shield, and help Nest and her offspring escape. When the time comes, hopefully Nest will do the same for Elen. Coats' research serves her well as she creates a fictional character (Elen) to guide modern readers through the historical kidnapping of Princess Nest, sometimes known as the Helen of Wales. The story is bleak, brutal, and unforgiving, narrated by Elen herself, making the experience that much more immediate and personal. Supporting materials include the lineage of Welsh royal houses, a map, and a pronunciation guide for the Welsh words in the story, as well as an historical note.


Excerpts

Excerpts

December 1109 Ordinary families look to holy days to gather and share a big meal and get rosy with ale and dance caroles and hear the news. I like to think I'd know ordinary if I saw it. At last year's Christmas feast, there were three drunken fistfights, several black eyes, and an "accidental" lapse in courtesy that involved a plate of turnips in sauce. We left three days early, before Owain's father could throw us out. Owain promised he'd behave himself this year, which I strongly suspect means drinking his weight in claret and leading the late-night singing of vulgar ballads. If you can call that noise singing. At the very least, fewer broken noses would be nice. I'm packing my rucksack by the curtained bed in the corner of the hall. Gowns, hose, warm woolen undergarments, and my ball. Owain's little cousin will want a rematch after our game at Michaelmas. I also find the toy mouse I made for her from nubby scraps of linen. Llywelyn penteulu is barking orders to speed our departure feastward, and the lads are tripping over one another to carry them out. None of them wants trouble from Owain's warband chief, especially not when he's harried. Llywelyn penteulu could be standing anywhere in the hall, but he's standing near me because it amuses him that I stutter whenever I must speak to him. "Ah . . . you packed yet?" One of the men of Owain's teulu, come to fetch me. I say men. It's the newest one -- ​Rhys, I think -- ​a lad who doesn't look a day over four and ten summers, the one the others still mock mercilessly for being sick all over himself during his first raid. "Soon." The toy mouse's paws are coming unstitched where they attach to the body. Margred's at that age when well-meaning mothers and aunts start pushing rosewater behind the ears and milkwashes for the complexion, so I'm of the opinion she needs toys more than ever. "Ah . . ." Rhys was beaten in only months ago and struggles with how to address me. The warbanders avoid me if they can and call me nothing at all, and they've likely told him to do the same. "It's just that the sun's almost up, and I've still got my own --" "What was that, pisser?" Llywelyn penteulu rounds on Rhys, and both of us flinch. "You afraid of girls? Because by now I sorely hope you know enough to step to it when given a task." Rhys swallows. Chances are he's not afraid of most girls, but he might be a little afraid of me. One of the lads has doubtless told him I once stabbed a man through the neck with a fire iron, and it's no secret where I sleep at night. "It's all right. I'm ready now." I smile an apology at Rhys as I stuff the toy into my rucksack along with my sewing kit so I can fix it later. "Come, you can --" "You're burning daylight, lad." Owain appears behind Llywelyn penteulu's boar-solid shoulders and tilts a pointed glance at the open hall door. "It's like you want to be set upon by Normans." "S-so it's true, then. There are Normans out there. Waiting." Rhys has been among the lads long enough to know that most of what they tell him is horse manure, but still he draws a shaky breath and says, "I've heard that Normans are butchers. That they're the scum of England who've come to the kingdoms of Wales because they take joy in killing, and here they can be as brutal as they want." "Hell yes, it's true," Owain replies, bluff and cheerful, "but there's no shame standing in dread of terrible things. Or terrible men." Rhys hesitates. "But you're not afraid." "No reason to be." Owain shrugs with a simple, carefree confidence that never fails to send a chill down my back. "Saint Elen protects me." "Owain ap Cadwgan can't be killed, not by blade nor blow nor poison." I say it calm and sure, the way I imagine Saint Elen would if she were here, because these lads cannot hear it enough times. "And here's what I must do for that protection." Owain grins and pulls me against him with one hand sprawled over my backside. "Here she is, my Elen, good and close. Who am I to ignore the will of a saint?" Rhys glances at me again through long, tangly curls. He is deliberately keeping his eyes off Owain's hand on my haunch. There are no secrets in a warband. Rhys is not asking because any of this is new to him. He's been told that Saint Elen keeps Owain safe in and out of the field, and he certainly believes a saint is capable of such things. He's just not sure why. It's not every day that Almighty God sees fit to lay a special blessing on the likes of Owain ap Cadwgan through the intercession of one of His saints. "So you'll see her packed and ready, then? Good." Owain claps Rhys on the shoulder and turns to leave. "This little pisser thinks he's above the task," Llywelyn penteulu says. "He has better things to do. He thinks that little of your safety." Owain stops midstride. "Beg pardon. What was that?" I fight down the urge to speak for Rhys. It's hard to begrudge him uncertainty, but it's too dangerous for him to keep it. Rhys shuffles. "My lord . . . it's not . . ." "Not what?" Owain leans close to Rhys, eyes in slits. "You think this is rubbish? You don't believe a saint protects me?" Llywelyn penteulu steps to Owain's shoulder, and together they're a shield wall as they glower down at Rhys. I edge backward, slow, slow, till I'm clear. "Draw your blade, then," Owain says to Rhys in a low, dangerous voice, "and let's see if it's true." Excerpted from Spindle and Dagger by J. Anderson Coats All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.