Thursday, June 27, 2024

Library Day with Spindle and Dagger by J. Anderson Coats

It's Library Day! Today's gem was released in 2010 and heads back to 1109 in Wales. It follows a girl as she struggles to survive during a very, very turmoil ridden time period. I adore historical novels, and when they're set in a little-seen-time-period, I might even get giddy. Now, this one will not be a gentle read. The time period was more than rough. While there are very subtle indications of possible rape (and I do mean that one has to really read between the lines), the author keeps this one solidly in the rough treatment of 'lowly' citizens and the violence surrounding the constant warring tribes (not overly gruesome, either). 

Yes, I did read this before writing the above comments (usually, I do a pre-thought thingy), but I couldn't wait to dive into this one right away. 

by J. Anderson Coats
Candlewick Press
Young Adult Historical 
304 pages

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.

At a library near you!!!


This sinks its teeth into a historical period of constantly warring tribes, and their vye for power destroys anyone, who shows the slightest sign of weakness.

The world is in unrest with ever shifting sides and those who take what they want without scrutiny. Elen has already watched her innocent family be slaughtered before her eyes and now survives thanks to a lie she used to save herself. Tethered to a leading warrior's side, she's believed to be sent from from a saint, her name's sake, to keep the warrior from death. The lie has miraculously worked for years, but the shifting power struggles are sliding in a new direction. Not only are the stakes during the battles higher, but her secret threatens to be exposed.

This is set in 12th century Wales, a time where the entire country seeped under attacks and wars as various powers tried to gain the overhand. The tale is not presented with any cushioning to ease the brutality. Instead, it follows a historical incident, and playing the game of 'what if', fills in holes. There isn't any fantasy, and the author tries to stick to realistic possibility in a grabbing and tense way. It is a grabbing read and does a nice job at delivering an engaging tale while shedding some light on the time period.

While YA historical reads tend to sink into romance, this book does not. Instead, it takes a peek at political shoves for power and intrigue. It concentrates on the factors, which drove the merciless behavior and left the country in blood. Also, the relationship between men and women grows clear...and not with a lightness readers might expect. It is complex and interesting.

While all of this plays out, the author does side-step other aspects outside of the warring powers, which would have added more depth. It would have been nice to see more details and gain a little insight into the life of anyone not directly working in the power plays, especially since Elen comes from this 'usual' folk perspective herself. But anyone who enjoys historic ventures with truth, grit, and a glimpse at what true heroines might have looked like, is in for quite the read with this one. 

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