SPINDLE AND DAGGER, by J. Anderson Coats, Candlewick Press

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. 

Out March 2020

304 Pages


I received this book in exchange for my honest review.

When writing a book, the first chapter is the most important. It must hook the reader and show the conflict of the Protagonist. The following chapters should help the reader see the whys, hows, wheres, etc. by telling you who the Protagonist is and his/her main goal.

This book does not. Or at least it doesn’t enough, especially in providing a hook for the reader compelling enough to want to know more.

There are hints of an event in the Protagonist’s past that should explains why Elen is the way she is, but they are only hints and never realized at the end. The author lets the reader try to piece bits and pieces together in an effort of understanding the main character. This proved frustrating and turned the reader off. All loose ends should be wrapped up by the end of the story, including all plot issues and sub-plot issues.

So for me, the writing is lacking.

The character is interesting enough giving a strong argument to how women of an era must do whatever it takes to survive, even sacrificing her own worth and dignity. Readers may find her weak and cowardly, drastically flawed. This could have worked well if the character grew from her weaknesses and developed into a stronger version of herself by the end. This didn’t seem to happen enough for me.

I suppose if the story had been more fleshed out, the character development continuous and efficient enough to see change and growth, thus providing answers and understandings… then perhaps, the author would have achieved success with this reader.

I’m a strong historical fiction reader, so loved the idea and premise of this book. I received an ARC so I didn’t think much about editing or typos since normally, all of that is dealt with by the final copy. Because of the dialect used, it might have been better if the ARC provided had been the one prior to the final copy so focus would not have been distracted by the editing issues.

Overall, it was a good effort of a book, but the unfinished business left unresolved was just too much for me.

I gave it:

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