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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for Spindle and Dagger

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tatiana

    3.5 stars Glad to see that at least some YA authors try to write historical fiction that is not a dumb romance-filled, factually incorrect fluff. Spindle and Dagger joins a throng of novels that aim to give voice to the women in a history written by men. This story is based on the legend of so called "Helen of Wales" - Nest, wife of one Welsh lord kidnapped with her children by another one - Owain. Nest's narrative is open to interpretation and is compiled of differing, often contradictory account 3.5 stars Glad to see that at least some YA authors try to write historical fiction that is not a dumb romance-filled, factually incorrect fluff. Spindle and Dagger joins a throng of novels that aim to give voice to the women in a history written by men. This story is based on the legend of so called "Helen of Wales" - Nest, wife of one Welsh lord kidnapped with her children by another one - Owain. Nest's narrative is open to interpretation and is compiled of differing, often contradictory accounts, in which Nest was maligned in various ways (just like Helen of Troy). Nest, however, is not the main character or narrator of this novel. It is Elen, Owain's sort of spiritual guide, who had previously saved her life by convincing Owain that as long as he kept her safe he would have the protection of Saint Elen. Elen's psychological journey is tightly women to Nest's. How these two women navigate the men-ruled world is what Spindle and Dagger is about. What the author does here is quite successful, IMO. Anderson has given her heroines agency while acknowledging how powerless they often were. She manages to portray rape, abduction, even Stockholm syndrome in the historical context without explicitly and anachronistically naming them. The book is much plottier than I like though. There are too many political schemes I couldn't quite keep up with. I'd rather have more historical details of everyday life. But then again, when I tried looking up additional info, I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of infighting in Wales at that time. It was a MESS. No wonder I can't fully get it. The men of the time fought and switched alliances constantly! Fans of The Passion of Dolssa or Catherine, Called Birdy should check this out.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Celia McMahon

    Far too many typos in the e-galley. I’ll pick up up again when the final version is published.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Haley~

    This book was okay. Not bad but not great. It was short and simple, not much world building or depth to it. I think the author writes Elen’s trauma really well, I liked that. But honestly I feel like the book didn’t really have a point? Not much is resolved? Trying to say this without spoilers— Elen gets to a place the end. But none of what’s going on in the background is resolved? I mean I guess Elen doesn’t really care about that. But eh.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Mitchell

    “I will make my own chaos. I will bring down this whole miserable castle works around Clare’s wretched Norman ears, and I will leave Owain and his lads to come out of it however they can.” Spindle and Dagger is a thrilling historical novel that follows a young woman who has learned to survive through whatever means necessary. The story begins with Elen in Wales, 1109, three years after a warband raided her home and killed her family. To survive the raid, she saved the warband leader’s life and cr “I will make my own chaos. I will bring down this whole miserable castle works around Clare’s wretched Norman ears, and I will leave Owain and his lads to come out of it however they can.” Spindle and Dagger is a thrilling historical novel that follows a young woman who has learned to survive through whatever means necessary. The story begins with Elen in Wales, 1109, three years after a warband raided her home and killed her family. To survive the raid, she saved the warband leader’s life and crafted an elaborate lie, a playact she is forced to live daily. Thus, she finds herself living with the very people who destroyed her life and stole her happiness. When she saved Owain ap Cadwagn’s life and made him believe that he held the protection of Saint Elen—her namesake—as long as he kept her close, he took her at her word. But no one can survive for long on a lie, and Elen’s lie begins unraveling. She may be Owain’s bedmate and protector, but she is not his wife, nor is she welcomed by his family and friends. She lives a poor existence as an outcast, the object of lewd jokes and ridicule. Yet, she has survived, with plenty of food, clothes to wear, and a bed to sleep in. It’s better than being dead, right? When tensions between Wales and England escalate, and circumstances take a disastrous turn, Elen must decide if she will abandon the lie and live life on her own terms, or remain at the mercy of Owain for the rest of her tortured existence. I really enjoyed this dark tale, despite a few flaws early on. It deals with some deep themes such as sexual assult and death. Elen suffered greatly when the warband raided her home. She watched them kill her sister and destroy everything. She suffered through rape, as was common during those times. These scenes are not shown, but relayed as flashbacks throughout the story, leaving the reader to pity Elen. They are not graphic, which I appreciated. In the end, Elen did what she could in the heat of the moment: she offered to save Owain’s life, the man responsible for everything, in hopes that she might be allowed to live. Some might argue that it was a cowardly move on her part(she was only fourteen at the time). From the beginning, it is clear that Elen is somewhat of a coward. Yet, as the story progresses, she begins to show strength. That strength grows. We see a rewarding character arc as she transforms herself, as she learns to take her life into her own hands. She learns to have courage in spite of fear—a valuable lesson. J. Anderson Coats portrayed the Welsh warband life in a way that gave me a glimpse into old times. Her writing and prose was a pleasure to read, and perfect for young adult audiences. Some reviews I came across argued that the book moved slow in places. I did not find that to be the case. I felt that every piece was relevant to Elen’s growth as a character. The plot was masterfully woven with true events, taking advantage of various missing pieces from history. I felt as if this story really did happen during the 1100s, based on the information available to us today. Overall, I believe Coats did a great job staying true to events. My only critique was that I felt the beginning of the book (the first couple of chapters) fell short. Because the story begins three years after the catastrophic event that shaped Elen’s future, we are left to piece together what happened. This made things confusing at first and could potentially turn some readers away. I believe that having utilized a short prologue, one that wasn’t too graphic, could have better set the stage. Moreover, I felt that the beginning doesn’t do enough to hook a reader. There was a lot of “telling” in the first few chapters. One event in particular, when we witness the death of Llywelyn penteulu, left me quite dissatisfied. The little “battle” skirmish on the road is relayed in what felt like a emotionless manner. Given that it was so early on in the book, and I was still trying to find my bearings, I think the author could have added some bits to make the event feel more “real.” An arrow whizzing past Elen’s ear, or someone falling dead at her feet, or someone coming at her only to be struck down. Something that involved her more in the scene. I would have liked to have seen some emotions from Elen while this was happening. Because of this, the scene felt lazily done. Fortunately, this wasn’t enough to put down the book, and after getting past this part, I found myself entirely engrossed. I have subtracted 1 star for these flaws. The latter half of the book entirely engrossed me. Once I saw Elen begin to plot, to take matters into her own hands, I found myself eagerly hoping she would make the correct decision. There were a few fumbles on her part, as is normal when it comes to personal growth. Her ultimate decision at the end was very fulfilling. I loved the way the story ended; it put a smile on my face and left me feeling good. My favorite relationship between the characters was Elen and Nest. I felt that the growth between them was realistic. I felt bad for Nest from the beginning, and I admired the way Elen stepped up to help Nest, despite the things she’d gone through in her past. The way their friendship developed left me fulfilled. Rhys was my other favorite character. I enjoyed the small bit of storyline he enveloped, and watching his personal growth from the beginning to end. If you enjoy historical fiction set in an English setting, with bits of true history woven into the plot, I highly recommend this book. I initially picked it up because of the stunning cover, which caught my eye immediately. I’ve always been a fan of historical fiction. This story did not disappoint! It will be available March 10th, so hurry and preorder your copy! Thank you Netgally, and Candlewick Press for providing me an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review. I was thrilled to read the story and happy that I did.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    My arc has a problem. I've never seen so many typos and/or missing words. Only a couple pages in and I was already frustrated. Here are a few examples from the first few paragraphs only: "O and share a big meal and get rosy with ale and dance caroles and hear the news." "there were three drunken stghts" "I also nd the toy mouse..." "during his rst raid" "e toy mouse's paws are coming unstitched" "and both of us inch" instead of flinch... "I stu the toy into my rucksack along with my sewing kit so My arc has a problem. I've never seen so many typos and/or missing words. Only a couple pages in and I was already frustrated. Here are a few examples from the first few paragraphs only: "O and share a big meal and get rosy with ale and dance caroles and hear the news." "there were three drunken stghts" "I also nd the toy mouse..." "during his rst raid" "e toy mouse's paws are coming unstitched" "and both of us inch" instead of flinch... "I stu the toy into my rucksack along with my sewing kit so I can x it later." "ere are Normans out there." I don't mind a few typos in books. I'm really not a snob when it comes to that but here, I just can't do it. The synopsis sound amazing though so I might check out the published copy but now I'm way less excited to read it. Edit: it seems the file only has a problem with Kindle. When I opened it with Adobe, it was fine. I'll try to read it that way.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Leah M

    I received an ARC of this book through Netgalley. This is my honest review, provided willingly. My rating would have been higher, except the first thing I noticed about this story was the excessive amount of typos. There were at least 5 typos per Kindle page, although most had more. The beginning of scene/chapters had entire words, or possibly full sentences missing. It forced me to puzzle out what I was reading, slowed me down, frustrated me to no end, and consistently took me out of the story. I received an ARC of this book through Netgalley. This is my honest review, provided willingly. My rating would have been higher, except the first thing I noticed about this story was the excessive amount of typos. There were at least 5 typos per Kindle page, although most had more. The beginning of scene/chapters had entire words, or possibly full sentences missing. It forced me to puzzle out what I was reading, slowed me down, frustrated me to no end, and consistently took me out of the story. Ordinarily I would have stopped reading this book very quickly, but the premise sounded interesting and I actually wanted to know what happened, so I slogged on through trying to make sense of the half words on each and every page. First and foremost, this book was set in a violent and brutal time, and it was fraught with danger for women. While the book does include rape and trauma, I felt that this was handled sensitively, especially in light of this being a YA book. While the book never actually used the word "rape," it was gently alluded to, which I felt was a positive in a sea of books packed full of shock value. The focus on relationships between the women associated with the warband was interesting. Books like these are what holds my attention when reading historical fiction. I could read about historical events all day, but never learn about what life in a warband was actually like for the men involved and the women on the outskirts. I did learn that women like Elen, who are held by a high-ranking leader but not wed, relied on wits and awareness to get through, especially when the ladies in society wanted nothing to do with her. My heart went out to her in her loneliness at being shunned by women who could have been friends. I guess it made it easy to understand why she'd extend kindness and friendship to Nest. The pace was fairly slow for much of the story, until it picked up closer to the end. The writing seemed quite simple, which I wouldn't attribute to the YA genre, since there are many YA books that are complex and intriguing. For a woman who survived the trauma Elen went through, she's still quite naive in important ways, especially someone who earned grudging respect from the men of the warband in the 3 years she was with them. There was also a lot of telling, not showing. I loved the idea of the book, although it could have been fleshed out more. The characters could have been fascinating instead of merely interesting, had they too, been more well-developed. I even struggled to find any identification with Elen. I had high hopes for this book, and the fact that the very first word was a typo was like hearing a wrong note played at the very start of a concert. While the story held my attention in the day it took me to read it, this book had the potential to be one of those books I couldn't put down. As it was, I just wanted to finish reading so that I could move on to a book that transported me within its pages and didn't have so many errors. Hopefully this will be edited thoroughly before it is released.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Shannon (It Starts At Midnight)

    You can find the full review and all the fancy and/or randomness that accompanies it at It Starts at Midnight I was pretty darn stoked to read a book set in 1109. I mean it even looks cool typed out, does it not? Plus, it's just not a time period I know a ton about and I love to learn cool stuff about old times! And it really is a neat book. Elen is in Wales in the early twelfth century, and obviously things are less on the comfy side and more on the brutal. Her whole family has been slain, and You can find the full review and all the fancy and/or randomness that accompanies it at It Starts at Midnight I was pretty darn stoked to read a book set in 1109. I mean it even looks cool typed out, does it not? Plus, it's just not a time period I know a ton about and I love to learn cool stuff about old times! And it really is a neat book. Elen is in Wales in the early twelfth century, and obviously things are less on the comfy side and more on the brutal. Her whole family has been slain, and she's worked her way into the inner circle of their murderers. Now, she travels around with Owain ap Cadwgan, leader of the warband and son of the king. Only, the king doesn't like her, most of the warband despises her, and she's not really sure what she wants. To survive, really, is the bottom line. Until Owain captures the innocent wife and children of an enemy, and she begins to see that there might be another way to live.  The world is, predictably, brutal. Like no one thinks twice of this warband's existence, right? It's totally legit that they raid towns and kill randos. But at the same time, there seems to be some sort of lines one should not cross (like the killing of Owain's Second, which is what lead him to kidnap the family in the first place), which is incredibly interesting. And, this is based on a true story which is even more fun!  Watching Elen have to make so many horrible choices while she remembers all too vividly the demise of her family is rough. But there is hope that she will find a way to live a better life, which is ultimately so worth reading about. Nest and her family are also phenomenal characters, and I was just as concerned (fine, maybe more concerned) for their lives and welfare as I was for Elen's. That, and roaming around twelfth century Wales is just fabulous!  My biggest complaint here is one that is not the author's fault whatsoever, but something that did effect my enjoyment of the book, and I feel like it needs to be addressed, so here we go. I could barely read the thing. I set it aside hoping I'd just get myself a finished copy, but after the world shut down, that wasn't an option anymore so I did my best. At some point, I managed to figure out a lot of what the missing letters were, and tried to turn it into a game of sorts, deciphering a code. Look, I get that eARCs are going to be a little rough, but I need to be able to read the thing in order to give a legitimate review. Bottom Line: Once I finally started to be able to decode all the missing letters, this was a really solid book with characters that I truly cared about. Plus, the time period and setting were so unique and intriguing! 

  8. 5 out of 5

    Stephenie

    It's 12 century Wales, grim, gritty and dangerous at times... The main character Elen is around 17 at the start of this story, so it has been about 3 years since her home was raided and her family killed. As the story goes on, there are scenes that flashback on what happened on that day, the lie she told and the reason why she is still alive and now comforting the enemy, Owain. During a dramatic turn of events, and an unlikely friendship, Elen grows from feckless and idle to courageous and hopef It's 12 century Wales, grim, gritty and dangerous at times... The main character Elen is around 17 at the start of this story, so it has been about 3 years since her home was raided and her family killed. As the story goes on, there are scenes that flashback on what happened on that day, the lie she told and the reason why she is still alive and now comforting the enemy, Owain. During a dramatic turn of events, and an unlikely friendship, Elen grows from feckless and idle to courageous and hopeful. I honestly think if this turn did not happen, Elen probably would have stayed feckless and maybe even somewhat content to stay with Owain, not a favorable choice, but one that does keeps her alive. Even though some of the Welsh words went over my head, I enjoyed Elen's journey of survival, courage and hope. Thank you so much Netgalley for this free E-Arc in exchange for an honest review.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Caity

    I really enjoyed the way the author used history to frame the story. The main characters were well written and showed both how women were undervalued and how they could use the influence they had to change their lives. Overall it was an engaging read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sionna

    The review copy I was given has so many typos-- mostly the first few letters of a word missing, so I'll wait to read the finished copy. It seems interesting?? The 5 or so pages I read, but I'm spending a lot of time decoding words.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Brynn Gibson

    I was super excited to receive this free advanced digital copy of Spindle and Dagger. It has words or phrases written in Welch. There is a glossary at the front to help explain it also. I'm not giving up, but there are soooo many typos. Between the missing letters and the dialect, it's hard to stay in the story. I want to continue it, but this may be a scenario where I will wait for the finished copy. * * * *

  12. 5 out of 5

    Brynn Gibson

    I was super excited to receive this free advanced digital copy of Spindle and Dagger. It has words or phrases written in Welch. There is a glossary at the front to help explain it also. I'm not giving up, but there are soooo many typos. Between the missing letters and the dialect, it's hard to stay in the story. I want to continue it, but this may be a scenario where I will wait for the finished copy.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Laurie (AFozenBookParadise)

    I received a copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 2.5 The copy I received was littered with typos which often brought me out of the story and made it hard to follow at points, however, I still found the protagonist very plain. This book had a lot of potentials I found the idea around the main character possibly being a saint and being mistaken for her miracles was interesting, but she MC was quite boring. She didn't really do much other than follow the warlord around and I wanted t I received a copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 2.5 The copy I received was littered with typos which often brought me out of the story and made it hard to follow at points, however, I still found the protagonist very plain. This book had a lot of potentials I found the idea around the main character possibly being a saint and being mistaken for her miracles was interesting, but she MC was quite boring. She didn't really do much other than follow the warlord around and I wanted to learn more about the mythology.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    Wales, 1109: When Elen's home was raided by a warband three years ago her younger sister died in the ensuing fires. Her older sister was cut down just short of killing the warband's leader, Owain ap Cadwgan. Despite the violence and her own sexual assault, Elen survived, healing Owain ap Cadwgan's wounds and weaving a tale of protection. She tells all who will listen that Owain ap Cadwgan cannot be killed--not by blade, blow, or poison--so long as Saint Elen protects him, so long as he keeps her Wales, 1109: When Elen's home was raided by a warband three years ago her younger sister died in the ensuing fires. Her older sister was cut down just short of killing the warband's leader, Owain ap Cadwgan. Despite the violence and her own sexual assault, Elen survived, healing Owain ap Cadwgan's wounds and weaving a tale of protection. She tells all who will listen that Owain ap Cadwgan cannot be killed--not by blade, blow, or poison--so long as Saint Elen protects him, so long as he keeps her namesake by his side. None of what she tells them is true. Balanced on a knife's edge and haunted by echoes of the raid that killed her family, Elen knows one false step, one accident could leave Owain dead and render her own life forfeit. When Owain abducts Nest, the wife of a Norman lord, and her children, war soon follows. As her lies begin to unravel, Elen dares to imagine a different life but first she will have to determine where her loyalties lie in Spindle and Dagger (2020) by J. Anderson Coats. Elen's first person narration is frank and immediately engrossing, drawing readers into the precarious world she has created for herself. With violence and danger everywhere, Elen is forced to be as calculating and as ruthless as the warband that is both her greatest protection and her greatest danger. High action and battles contrast sharply with the choices Elen is forced to make to ensure her own survival. Coats' evocative prose and themes of agency and feminism add nuance and depth to this otherwise fast-paced story. Spindle and Dagger is brutal, bloody, and carefully researched historical fiction. Recommended for readers looking for fierce heroines and history with all the gory details. Possible Pairings: Damsel by Elana K. Arnold, The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green, Sweet Black Waves by Kristina Perez, Kingdom of Ash and Briars by Hannah West, The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White *An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kayla (krakentoagoodbook)

    I won an ARC of Spindle and Dagger in a giveaway from the author - thank you! All opinions are my own. Spindle and Dagger is a YA historical fiction novel where the setting and the writing both remind me of Juliet Marillier's books. The book begins after Elen's home was raided and her family killed (we're given more details about this event throughout the book). Elen survived the raid by healing Owain, the leader of the warband. As part of this healing, she pretended that Saint Elen helped him an I won an ARC of Spindle and Dagger in a giveaway from the author - thank you! All opinions are my own. Spindle and Dagger is a YA historical fiction novel where the setting and the writing both remind me of Juliet Marillier's books. The book begins after Elen's home was raided and her family killed (we're given more details about this event throughout the book). Elen survived the raid by healing Owain, the leader of the warband. As part of this healing, she pretended that Saint Elen helped him and that he now has her protection, as long as he keeps Elen safe. Owain kidnaps Nest (the wife of a Norman lord) and her children, causing political ramifications. Elen befriends Nest and her children and begins to think about a better life for herself. The good: I liked Elen quite a bit! I thought she was very intelligent and definitely thought she did what she had to do in order to survive. She doesn't really have any friends or protectors, aside from Owain, at the beginning of the book and I thought the author did an excellent job depicting her isolation. Elen's journey of recovering from these horrible events and finding out how to move forward with her life is touching. The not as good: The book was a little slow in places and the plot was perhaps a little simplistic. These aren't really major complaints though. Overall, I enjoyed Spindle and Dagger. I would recommend this to fans of historical fiction and readers who enjoy stories about surviving and overcoming traumatic events. I do think this book is a bit lighter in tone than many of Juliet Marillier's books (perhaps because this is YA), so that could be better for some readers. I had no idea that this was based on actual historical events, so that was cool to learn!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tamara

    *I received a copy of this ebook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.* 3.5 stars. This book was rooted in history and a number of the characters were actual people, which made it even more interesting to read. But I am so grateful to not have lived in Wales during the 12th Century. I'm fairly certain that some of my ancestors did, though. I appreciated the brief Welsh pronunciation guide at the beginning of the book, but I constantly struggled with y and w. (And since it was an ebo *I received a copy of this ebook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.* 3.5 stars. This book was rooted in history and a number of the characters were actual people, which made it even more interesting to read. But I am so grateful to not have lived in Wales during the 12th Century. I'm fairly certain that some of my ancestors did, though. I appreciated the brief Welsh pronunciation guide at the beginning of the book, but I constantly struggled with y and w. (And since it was an ebook, I couldn't just flip back and forth easily.) Elen (17), though she was one of the few fictional characters, was a compelling character in a precarious situation. Everything she did was to ensure her survival, and it kind of broke my heart. At times it seemed like there might have been something almost real between her and Owain (19), and when I first started the book, I admit I hoped for it. But I quickly changed my opinion--I wanted to snatch her away and slaughter Owain ap Cadwgan (and his warband) myself. As the book progressed, I preferred to throw in a junk punch or a castration first. I honestly can't think of a good thing to say about him that wasn't a result of something Elen did. He protected her because she made him believe it was necessary. Based on the historical information at the end of the book, I doubt my assessment of Owain was incorrect. Like Elen, Nest (implied in her 20s) was resourceful and clever--and she was a real person. I pitied her and Elen for . . . well, simply for living when they did. Yet somehow, despite all that happened and was done to them, they were able to maintain their humanity and hold on to hope. How it ends: (view spoiler)[Owain finally sends Nest's children back to their father, but he disobeys his own father and takes Nest away with him into exile. Nest convinces a graybeard to help her escape while she is exiled with Owain and Elen in Ireland. She invites Elen to go with her, which she eventually decides to do. They're on the ship, and Rhys follows them, trying and failing to convince the captain to turn around. When they reach Wales, only Nest's fare is paid because the price went up. Elen is able to pay her fare because she stole Rhys's coin purse. She ends up paying Rhys's as well to prevent him going to the slave market. Rhys takes her to a fort, where Cadwgan and his wife, Isabel, are. Isabel finds out that Cadwgan sent their toddler son, Henry, as a hostage to the English king. She storms out, heading to her property, Worthen, and Elen convinces her to take her along out of spite. Elen plans to escape to Nest while there, but then Isabel decides she'll send her with a guard--again to spite her husband. Then Cadwgan and Rhys arrive and foil that plan. Cadwgan, however, agrees to send her to Nest because he doesn't want her with Owain. Rhys volunteers, but of course he takes her straight to Owain and the band. They stage raids, trying to make it appear the Normans are invading so that Cadwgan will come, and Owain can kill him and become king. They are captured outside a fort/castle being built and pretend to be pilgrims. Elen is brought before who she thinks is Gerald (Nest's husband) and tries to convince him to let them go, admitting that everything Owain believes about being protected by Saint Elen was false, all while Owain is watching (she didn't know). It turns out to be someone else (Gilbert fitz Richard de Clare), who decides that Elen can go but the rest will be hanged. And for some weird reason, she starts a fire so the warband can escape. Honestly! I'm guessing it's solely to prevent the Normans from gaining more of a foothold in Wales, but I'm not sure I could have overlooked my own hatred for Owain etc. to do that. So she's stuck with Owain again, and he thinks she lied to save them all. But she tells him that she made it all up and has been lying to him. He attacks her, but Einion holds him back and tells her to leave, which she does. On her way to Caeriw, where people believe Nest is, she discover Rhys trailing behind her. She tells her that he just wants to make sure she gets there safely, for real this time since he no longer believes the story that she was ensuring Saint Elen's protection of Owain. Nest welcomes her, and she will be the children's nurse, as planned. (hide spoiler)] Note: Some swearing. Sexual assault and rape, none of which happens on the page.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Katie P.

    Wales in 1109 was a dangerous place for a woman, especially a woman with a secret. This is the story of Elen, a girl whose family was slaughtered at the hands of one Owain ap Cadwgan and his band of warriors. Elen intends to survive. She finds herself assaulted, but in a position to use her power to spin a lie and convince Owain that he has been blessed and cannot die while under her protection. Clothed, fed, and living a lie, Elen finds herself well cared for, until Owain kidnaps the wife and ch Wales in 1109 was a dangerous place for a woman, especially a woman with a secret. This is the story of Elen, a girl whose family was slaughtered at the hands of one Owain ap Cadwgan and his band of warriors. Elen intends to survive. She finds herself assaulted, but in a position to use her power to spin a lie and convince Owain that he has been blessed and cannot die while under her protection. Clothed, fed, and living a lie, Elen finds herself well cared for, until Owain kidnaps the wife and children of a Norman warlord. Elen's lies seem to be on the brink of spinning out of control as war rages with the Normans. This is a meticulously researched and written novel that evokes the brutality of the world in the twelfth century. Interesting action scenes pared with beautiful prose make this an enjoyable read for anyone who loves history and appreciates the gritty-ness of the time period. Coats describes in brutal detail the challenges, battles, and sexual assaults that likely took place at the time. This is not a book that is a watered-down accounting of Norman warlords in the twelfth century, this is the all-out, all-encompassing, and incredibly brutal novel that is, most likely, very close to the reality. The book has solid character development through the second half of the book, though I do agree with other reviewers that the overall pacing in the first half of the book is slow. I do think that the writing makes up for this slow exposition through the exploration of the relationship between Elen and Nest, the kidnapped wife of Gerald of Windsor. Though this is a young adult novel, I would caution anyone under the age of 16 to read it due to its graphic violence. It wouldn't be a good historical fiction novel without violence, but this can get extreme at times. My only other criticism is that the passage of time seems to be choppy and the scene structure can get in the way of the narrative, but this is a small complaint. I really enjoyed this book and I would encourage historical fiction lovers to pick up a copy! The book releases March 10th, 2020! Thank you to Candlewick Press and NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy of this book, it was a privilege to read it and I thoroughly enjoyed it! This is a freely given review.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ricki_Reads

    Spindle and Dagger is a YA historical fiction novel set in 12th century Wales. In the tale, readers follow Elen, a teenage girl in a warband lead by the King's son, Owain. Owain believes that Elen is the physical embodiment of the Saint Elen and protects him from mortal danger. Elen spun this tale after the warband raided her tiny hamlet, killing both her sisters. She lived only because she was able to save Owain. She continues to live as long as Owain lives. It is a precarious life she leads an Spindle and Dagger is a YA historical fiction novel set in 12th century Wales. In the tale, readers follow Elen, a teenage girl in a warband lead by the King's son, Owain. Owain believes that Elen is the physical embodiment of the Saint Elen and protects him from mortal danger. Elen spun this tale after the warband raided her tiny hamlet, killing both her sisters. She lived only because she was able to save Owain. She continues to live as long as Owain lives. It is a precarious life she leads and she is more or less content in that life. Then Owain kidnaps Nest and her children. Nest is the wife of a Lord of England, and enemy of Owain. Over the course of her captivity, Nest befriends Elen and talks about what life for Elen could look like outside of the warband and away from Owain. Elen has never considered herself brave, but she must find it within herself if she is going to ever get away from Owain. Overall I did enjoy the tale, although I felt more of a connection with Nest than I did Elen. Elen feels like a spectator in her own life until after Nest and the children come into it. Readers can see a significant amount of character growth through the last third of the book. She is so meek and lost in the trauma that occured in her past she fails to make much of a mark until she is pushed to make difficult choices for her own survival and happiness. Parts of the tale can be difficult to read, due to the nature of warbands during the 12th century, one can imagine - although it is never expressly said - what happened to Elen at roughly 14 years old. Additionally, what happened to Nest when kidnapped by the same warband. Trigger warnings should be noted. In general I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, although I would be cautious of anyone under 16 reading without parental consent. Further I would caution anyone with aversion to mentions of sexual assault or abuse from reading this book without fair warning.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Tournas

    Seventeen year old Elen belongs to the warbander Owain, who murdered her family three years ago. In order to survive the assault, she ministered to his injury, and told him that she could keep him from harm as long as she was safe, due to her prayerful relationship with her saintly namesake, Saint Elen. In this setting of warring violent micro-kingdoms in twelfth century Wales, Elen is as safe as anyone can be. But she cannot stop reliving the horrific slaughter of her family at the hands of Owa Seventeen year old Elen belongs to the warbander Owain, who murdered her family three years ago. In order to survive the assault, she ministered to his injury, and told him that she could keep him from harm as long as she was safe, due to her prayerful relationship with her saintly namesake, Saint Elen. In this setting of warring violent micro-kingdoms in twelfth century Wales, Elen is as safe as anyone can be. But she cannot stop reliving the horrific slaughter of her family at the hands of Owain and his band: her parents and sisters murdered, their farm burned and her own rape by the band. She “playacts” in order to live, in the role of devoted concubine to Owain. When Owain kidnaps Nest, the wife of a prominent Norman lord, along with her three children, Elen is drawn to them, as she is still grieving her own family. She tries to protect them from the violence of the band, which she constantly relives from her own experience. Elen’s compliance with Owain takes the reader a while to understand: why would she cling to him when he is the source of her pain? It eventually becomes clear that Owain, although he is a violent warlord, is her only family now and seems to be her only means of survival. This is an intense drama in a violent historical setting, with abuse and survival psychology in play. Nevertheless, one can’t help but root for Elen as she navigates her survivor guilt and hatches a plan to free herself from her captors. I also liked the rich details of food, dress, politics and daily life. The style of the lovely cover art seems aimed at younger readers, but it is definitely not for readers under age 14.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Erik

    A testament to good writing is that you feel a genuine empathy and attachment to the characters. You get upset when bad things happen to them and you feel joy when things go well. That is how I felt regarding the main characters in J. Anderson Coats new novel “Spindle and Dagger”. Set in 11th century Wales, the story follows Elen a Welsh peasant whose family a few years before had been slaughtered in front of her by the soldiers of a Welsh Prince. She herself is then raped by the same soldiers a A testament to good writing is that you feel a genuine empathy and attachment to the characters. You get upset when bad things happen to them and you feel joy when things go well. That is how I felt regarding the main characters in J. Anderson Coats new novel “Spindle and Dagger”. Set in 11th century Wales, the story follows Elen a Welsh peasant whose family a few years before had been slaughtered in front of her by the soldiers of a Welsh Prince. She herself is then raped by the same soldiers and she ends up saving herself by healing the Prince’s wounds and convincing him that a Saint Elen will protect him and keep him alive as long as she is kept safe. The main plot then revolves around her keeping this lie alive and how it starts to crumble when the same Prince kidnaps another Nobel’s wife and children. Coats has created a world that is alive and genuine. She has crafted characters that you truly want to succeed and save themselves. Emotionally I was drawn to the two main female characters of Elen and Nest, the kidnapped Princess. Coats gives us a look not just into these two fictional characters lives, but also shows the devastating existence most females went through in that same time period. She also does a very good job making the villains in the story be more than just one-dimensional tropes. She makes them human, which makes their behavior all the more tragic. The only thing that bothered me was the cover graphic. It was done in a way that implies this is a YA book. But the subject matter and the plot is most certainly Adult.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Thindbooks

    *This book was provided by the publisher to give an honest review* If you love bloody, historical fiction with fierce heroines then this book is for you! This was an enjoyable and short read. I don't read much historical fiction but the author wrote the story well of a girl named Elen who spun a lie that Owain will get protection from Saint Elen if he keeps her name safe. The writing was different and not in a bad way. You can tell the author made it understandable for readers but also put some 12 *This book was provided by the publisher to give an honest review* If you love bloody, historical fiction with fierce heroines then this book is for you! This was an enjoyable and short read. I don't read much historical fiction but the author wrote the story well of a girl named Elen who spun a lie that Owain will get protection from Saint Elen if he keeps her name safe. The writing was different and not in a bad way. You can tell the author made it understandable for readers but also put some 12th-century language in it. The plot was well structured and the world-building was a little weak but not bad. The author put dates on the book instead of saying part 1 or 2 which is unique. The pacing was good and there weren't parts where it was too fast or slow. I didn't enjoy the main character, Elen, a lot but not because the author didn't write her well. She annoyed me a little because she was sucked up into Owain a little and didn't really release that she needs to leave to go into the real world. But there was a lot of information on this character because the author put flashbacks of Elen's life. You could tell that the character developed well throughout the book and didn't stagger. My favorite characters were Nest and her kids. I love how they were so brave when they were kidnapped and it brought me happiness when they cared so much for each other. They also let Elen be with them which melted my heart. I hated how Owain treated them because it was just a mom and her 3 children. This book was really good and I recommend it to ya historical fiction fans.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Feeck

    A quiet story one girl become woman finding a place for herself admist unglorious medieval realities. When raiders slaughtered Elen’s family, she traded desperate promises for a chance to live. Owain ap Cadwgan would never fall to the sword, so long as he kept the blessing of Saint Elen by protecting her the girl who bore her name. So says Elen, and to her relief, Owain believes. But as the years pass, Elen begins to wonder if it would have been better to have never made the bargain at all. The w A quiet story one girl become woman finding a place for herself admist unglorious medieval realities. When raiders slaughtered Elen’s family, she traded desperate promises for a chance to live. Owain ap Cadwgan would never fall to the sword, so long as he kept the blessing of Saint Elen by protecting her the girl who bore her name. So says Elen, and to her relief, Owain believes. But as the years pass, Elen begins to wonder if it would have been better to have never made the bargain at all. The writing reads easy, although this slow, character-driven historical-fiction is not for everyone. In many ways, I was reminded of Tess of the Road, although lacking such a strong character voice. Elen’s journey doesn’t jump out as heroic. She doesn’t become a fighter, or plot vengeance, or indulge in petty sabotage against her overlords. Her entire struggle is coping with traumatic memories and coming to a place of being able to hope for living a normal, peaceful life. To the author, I say thank you, thank you for the welsh pronunciation guide. I’m sure I still got it all wrong, but I liked being able to try. I think I remember seeing some debate as to whether this is really a YA book. Yes, it is. Nothing explicit, and the instances of abuse are alluded to in such a way that it would pass over your head if you didn’t know what to look for. **Thanks to Netgalley and Candlewick for the ARC**

  23. 5 out of 5

    Zoe L.

    I love a good historical fiction, especially one that takes me way back. Wales 1109 was a time of war, fear, and destruction. Spindle and Dagger takes us back to this time and gives insight into the horror Elen, the main character, had to face. Elen is a survivor, while she may not always be the most fearless individual, she still perseveres. One thing that I often find hit or miss with historical fiction, especially one that takes you this far back in time, is readability. As soon as I started S I love a good historical fiction, especially one that takes me way back. Wales 1109 was a time of war, fear, and destruction. Spindle and Dagger takes us back to this time and gives insight into the horror Elen, the main character, had to face. Elen is a survivor, while she may not always be the most fearless individual, she still perseveres. One thing that I often find hit or miss with historical fiction, especially one that takes you this far back in time, is readability. As soon as I started Spindle and Dagger I was struck with how “easy” (for lack of a better term) the story was to get into. The prose was simple yet elegant and I wasn’t struggling to find myself interested in the story, like how I sometimes feel with historical fiction. The other aspect of this story that I greatly appreciated was the parts where I could gleam how much research the author did for this story. You could tell that this book had a great historical context even though it is a fictional story. So in essence, if you like historical fiction and gorgeous covers then don’t hesitate and snag a copy of Spindle and Dagger! You can view my full review on my blog! I post a wide range of reviews! Reader | Bookstagrammer | Blogger | Reviewer @ya.its.lit - https://www.instagram.com/ya.its.lit/ Blog - https://yaitslitblog.wordpress.com/

  24. 4 out of 5

    Emily Pichardo

    I honestly think I would have enjoyed the book a little more if it hadn't been riddled with spelling errors. I don't know if there was something off with the format where all words beginning with 'Th' and "Fi" just had the last couple of letters and anything containing an "ff' just left that out....was really hard getting through it. The book follows Elen who must survive the warlord who killed family years ago. She's tricked him into thinking he won't die as long as he keeps her near since her I honestly think I would have enjoyed the book a little more if it hadn't been riddled with spelling errors. I don't know if there was something off with the format where all words beginning with 'Th' and "Fi" just had the last couple of letters and anything containing an "ff' just left that out....was really hard getting through it. The book follows Elen who must survive the warlord who killed family years ago. She's tricked him into thinking he won't die as long as he keeps her near since her namesake Saint has 'revealed' this miracle to her. But her life changes when the lord bring homes hostages, a mother and her three children. Now, she and the children's mother must formulate how to escape the enemies clutches. All in all, I started the story out really excited about a story set in ancient Wales/Ireland with a different kind of heroine. However, the story kind of fell flat to me. It's a lot of just following the villain around as he travels. I connected more with Nest (the children's mother) more than Elen. Nest had some personality. I did appreciate the amount of research and world building this book showcases. Though, I would also add in some kind of warning since the certain things are alluded to that some may not be expecting. The portrayal of PTSD in the storyline was very real. My thanks NetGalley, and Candlewick Press for providing me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Bethany Swafford

    After a warband burned her home, killed her family, and assaulted her, Elen did what she had to do to protect herself. She healed Owain ap Cadwagan and spun a lie that said Saint Elen would keep the man safe from harm as long as the saint's namesake (Elen herself) was kept safe and close. She has a kind of life but after three years, she begins to envision a new life for herself. I'm not going to lie. Parts of this story were difficult to get through. The language is more modern than I would have After a warband burned her home, killed her family, and assaulted her, Elen did what she had to do to protect herself. She healed Owain ap Cadwagan and spun a lie that said Saint Elen would keep the man safe from harm as long as the saint's namesake (Elen herself) was kept safe and close. She has a kind of life but after three years, she begins to envision a new life for herself. I'm not going to lie. Parts of this story were difficult to get through. The language is more modern than I would have expected (occasionally, Owain would say "Hey" to get Elen's attention) and slang that I would personally never agree to. There is mention of sexual assault, though never in great detail, and it's never far from Elen's memory. Still, this was an interesting novel. Elen's desperation to keep herself safe and the regret she has when she gets what she was after were intriguing. She made connections with people when she could, dreamed of better things, was ashamed when her dreams didn't come true, and came across as a very real person. It was even more interesting when I reached the end and realized part of this story was based on things that very well could have happened. I would recommend this to older teen readers. I received a free copy from the author and all opinions expressed are my own.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mag E

    I can't really figure out how to say what I thought about this book, which is why this review is structured kind of weirdly. I liked it. I liked Elen, and Nest, and Isabel, and Margred. I liked how the characters grew and changed. I liked the way the author revealed Elen's backstory in bits and pieces, mostly focusing on her emotions, and how much we learned from her flashbacks. I liked her relationship with Saint Elen. I liked that the book mentioned the history and the world enough to give me a I can't really figure out how to say what I thought about this book, which is why this review is structured kind of weirdly. I liked it. I liked Elen, and Nest, and Isabel, and Margred. I liked how the characters grew and changed. I liked the way the author revealed Elen's backstory in bits and pieces, mostly focusing on her emotions, and how much we learned from her flashbacks. I liked her relationship with Saint Elen. I liked that the book mentioned the history and the world enough to give me a sense of what it was like but not so much that I couldn't connect with the characters. I liked the way I was caught up in the tension of the book and didn't know whether it was going to work out or not. I loved how much I connected to and cared about the characters, especially Elen. I didn't like how much of the action felt centered in the second half, and the beginning felt a bit bland. But that didn't mean I wasn't engaged the whole time. I didn't like how confused I was about some of the politics and people. I still don't remember half of the names of the non-main-characters. But like I said, I still appreciated the book. Overall, yes, I would definitely recommend this book, especially to anyone who appreciates historical fiction. (And of a time period I rarely hear about, which was cool!)

  27. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    Spindle and Dagger was a solid three-star read for me. I found Elen's story to be interesting and unlikely any YA historical fiction I'd read before. The writing style made for a very immersive read without bogging down the story with unnecessary details. This is a very character-driven story but I personally found it worked well as Elen was an incredibly compelling main character. She's survived a lot yet still remains hopeful that she can find a way to obtain the life she wants. Her story also Spindle and Dagger was a solid three-star read for me. I found Elen's story to be interesting and unlikely any YA historical fiction I'd read before. The writing style made for a very immersive read without bogging down the story with unnecessary details. This is a very character-driven story but I personally found it worked well as Elen was an incredibly compelling main character. She's survived a lot yet still remains hopeful that she can find a way to obtain the life she wants. Her story also did a great job of highlighting the ways that girls and women were able to carve out some degree of autonomy in a world in which they had very limited options, which was neat. There were definitely a lot of dark topics in this book and I'd highly recommend reading some content warnings. The items that jumped out to me are listed below but I may have missed some. C/W:(view spoiler)[ repeated flashbacks to a traumatic memory that included rape + death of loved ones, threats of sexual violence, descriptions of violence + torture, allusions to rape occurring off-page, death of an infant (hide spoiler)]

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    This book would be great for anyone who likes historical fiction, war, kings and queens, and vengeance. What I personally liked about this book was the relationships Elen created, and how even though she was in tricky, anxiety-inducing situations, she still managed to figure out how to overcome the situation. I also really enjoyed reading about Wales in the 1100s. I have never had the pleasure of doing so! And, the cover is gorgeous. I love the colors and how it is laid out. The only thing I did This book would be great for anyone who likes historical fiction, war, kings and queens, and vengeance. What I personally liked about this book was the relationships Elen created, and how even though she was in tricky, anxiety-inducing situations, she still managed to figure out how to overcome the situation. I also really enjoyed reading about Wales in the 1100s. I have never had the pleasure of doing so! And, the cover is gorgeous. I love the colors and how it is laid out. The only thing I did not like about this novel was that it was a little slow in some parts. I know I don't like when books are slow, and it can be tough to hold my attention if that's the case. And in that same regard, I believe it may be difficult for some teens to trudge through, especially if they have other things on their mind. I would not recommend this book for anyone younger than high school. It has a lot of blood, violence, some curse words, and mentions of sexual assault. (The sexual assault is never described, though.)

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Harrison

    3.5 Stars 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 3.5 Stars 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 that spark that finally 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.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Angie

    My Review: I received a complimentary copy of this book via Netgalley, the following is my honest review and opinion. I am a big fan of books set in medieval times and when I came across this book I was really intrigued. It was a fairly short book but it took quite a while to read. I really wanted to enjoy this book and at times I really did but overall it was a bit lack luster. A lot happens but at the same time not a lot does, it has a slow pace with not a lot of ups and downs. I couldn't conn My Review: I received a complimentary copy of this book via Netgalley, the following is my honest review and opinion. I am a big fan of books set in medieval times and when I came across this book I was really intrigued. It was a fairly short book but it took quite a while to read. I really wanted to enjoy this book and at times I really did but overall it was a bit lack luster. A lot happens but at the same time not a lot does, it has a slow pace with not a lot of ups and downs. I couldn't connect with the characters or story. With that said, the way the world at the time is portrayed shows the brutal and harsh world women were forced to navigate with little to no power. I think it was a pretty accurate portrayal. There is also a theme of PTSD running throughout the story, Elen is forced to deal with the past trauma on her own and in her own way. While it wasn't a book that was easy reading, it was a well researched portrayal of the life of women at the time.

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