Spindle and Dagger
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.
Elen is an interesting character to follow. Told exclusively from her point of view, we quickly understand the precarious position that she is in. Three years prior to the start of the book, Elen's family were killed in a raid. The leader of the warband was injured, and Elen, not wanting to die, took a chance and healed him. Then she spun a lie, one that has kept her safe up to now: "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." Elen lives her life daily praying for survival, that the truth will not come out.
As a result of this lie, Owain is reckless. He believes nothing can harm him. The code of ethics the warbands live by do not apply to him. This recklessness causes great fear for Elen because she relies solely on the warband for protection, yet if this lie is revealed, they will not spare her. When Owain abducts Nest, the wife of a neighboring lord, Elen's lies begin to unravel.
I like Nest. Elen is drawn to her. She sees Nest as regal and everything Elen's own life could have been if not for the raid. A friendship develops between the two. For the first time since Elen told the lie, she begins to feel hope for the future and to see a life for herself beyond the day to day survival.
Overall I enjoyed Spindle and Dagger. Elen is stronger than she believes, and her development throughout the book is interesting to read. I love Coats's attention to detail. The author doesn't attempt to romanticize the era, but instead shows the brutality of it through Elen's eyes. If you enjoy immersive stories and beautifully written literary fiction, I highly recommend it.
- Strong female lead
The story unfolds from Elen's point of view. An interesting character, to say the least, Elen lives life on a prayer. When her family was killed in a raid on her home and the leader of the raid nearly killed, Elen heals him and spins 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 lived with her abusers, safe because of this lie. She is forced to be as ruthless and cunning as the warband that protects her. One wrong move, one misstep and they could easily turn on her. Her list begin to unravel when Owain abducts Nest, the wife of a nearby lord.
Nest is a turning point for Elen. Elen sees Nest as regal and unflinching despite her circumstances. As the two form a friendship, Elen begins imagining her life outside of Owain. She dreams of the day where she can look to a future, instead of praying to survive the day. I enjoyed the friendship that develops between the two women. It occurs naturally throughout the story, rather being forced.
As I already mentioned, this is well-researched novel. I appreciate that the author didn't try to romanticize the era. Instead, Coats describes the brutality of the time-period through Elen's eyes. As the reader, you understand what is happening and why because for Elen it is everyday life.
Overall, I enjoyed Spindle Dagger. Elen is stronger than she gives herself credit for. Her development throughout the book is subtle, and I found myself rooting for her by the end. If you enjoy historical fiction, I highly recommend this beautiful yet brutal novel.
- Strong female lead