Adelice recounts a childhood memory about Beth, a neighbor and classmate, who always bullied her. In the time that she knew Beth, Adelice always behaved timidly and meek in response to Beth’s ridicule, until one day when she finally stood up to her. On that day Adelice noticed Beth pushing around a bird’s nest in which there were two un-hatched eggs. Concerned for the growing chicks inside, Adelice demanded that Beth leave the nest alone. Surprised by Adelice’s uncharacteristic confidence, Beth surrendered the nest to Adelice but not without reminding her that the chicks would likely die anyways since mama birds don’t want their young once they’ve been touched by strangers. The eggs reminded young Adelice of her and Amie and she became determined to protect them. Her determination allowed her to see the individual strands that compose life in Arras. Adelice noticed the way strands made up objects around her and also observed several golden strands, representing time, interspersed throughout. In an attempt to turn time back to the moment before the mama bird neglected her nest, Adelice grabbed a golden strand and yanked it backward. However, she failed in her attempt and as days passed her father, recognizing the unlikelihood of the mama bird returning, removed the entire nest.
Now, sitting in a dark and damp cell in the Coventry, Adelice pictures her mother, searching their empty house in Romen, like the mama bird of her memory searching for her empty nest. Adelice acknowledges that her parents were right to be suspicious of the Guild but hopes that the government she learned about in school, the government that provides food for its citizens and heals the sick with ‘health patches’, is the same government caring for Amie. Because that government, unlike the one that left her father in a pool of his blood in their dining room, would never harm her sister. She blames herself for everything and wonders how different things would be if she had just failed the test. Reflecting on her childhood, Adelice, for the first time, notices signs of her parents’ discontent with the government—her parents were involved yet isolated from other community members, her father showed an unusual amount of support and respect for her mother as compared to the way other men treated women, and they were adamant about keeping her training a secret from Amie. Adelice regrets ignoring the message underlying her parents’ actions but promises herself that she will always remember them.
The cell where Adelice sits looks nothing at all like the elegant rooms given to Spinsters. Her cell has no light, no water, and no toilet. She concludes that she is being punished for trying to escape retrieval. Without the benefit of a window, Adelice must rely on her geographic knowledge to try and picture her location. However, she struggles to generate a complete vision since she’s never been shown a detailed map of Arrys. In school, the Guild requires that students be shown a basic map that only outlines the sectors, their capitols, and surrounding oceans so as not to "tempt" them to travel (44). Traveling across boundaries is discouraged because of the risk it poses to the weave. Each traveler would require spinsters to change the structure of the weave and if too many were to travel across boundaries at one time, the structure of the weave could be damaged. Therefore, all travel must be pre-approved and the privilege of traveling limited to only a small population. Adelice recalls that one of the few perks of being a Spinster includes border privileges but resolves that even that benefit isn’t worth losing her family forever.
Just as Adelice begins to wonder whether she’ll ever see light again, two people walk into her cell. One of them orders that she be taken upstairs for cleaning and hydration and the other, a muscular boy with blue eyes and curly brown hair, is left to fulfill the demand. When he picks her up to take her upstairs, Adelice notices the feeling of his muscles and is surprised to feel an “electric pulse” where he touches her. She hasn’t had many interactions with boys due to the Guild rules so his proximity makes her nervous (46). The boy shows asks about her escape attempt and expresses his relief to have an Eligible that is worried about more than pretty dresses and finally getting to wear makeup. Nevertheless, he cautions Adelice against openly expressing her disdain or showing any other signs of disobedience while at the Coventry because of the serious consequences. Adelice tries to resist his advice and conversation thinking that he is merely an errand boy but something about his words indicates to her that there’s more to him. After the boy drops her off at upstairs, Adelice receives a full cleaning and grooming. Afterwards, Adelice looks in the mirror and, for the first time, sees herself as the woman she’s become.
Maela, the woman in charge of training and welcoming Eligibles, enters to introduce herself to Adelice and congratulate her on being chosen. Despite Maela’s smiling face, Adelice senses that she won’t ever be a friend. Maela tells Adelice that her life belongs to the Guild now that she’s been chosen and any attempt to fight it would result in punishment. She tells Adelice that the Coventry is the only place where a woman can be “more than a secretary,” an intentional jab at Adelice’s mother (53). Adelice is both afraid of and angry with Maela and must work hard to contain her emotions. Before exiting, Maela warns Adelice that she must decide to be loyal to the Guild or else suffer the consequences. Then Maela’s assistant Erik, who Adelice recognizes as the same boy who gave the order to sedate her when she arrived at the Coventry, escorts her to her room, which is entirely different from her cell. There are silk pillows and champagne and Adelice is promised there will soon be enough food to make up for the days she spent without it. Adelice resists Erik’s friendliness, reluctant to place trust in anybody at the Coventry, particularly a person who recently had her sedated. Adelice considers refusing the fancy room and food in order to show solidarity for her family, wronged by the very people now treating her to all sorts of luxury, but she decides instead to accept the gifts since doing so will put her in a better position to locate her mother and protect her sister.
The next day, Adelice wakes up feeling more comfortable than she ever has in her life. She stares out the window wondering how the waves would feel on her feet when she spies a storm approaching. As she tries to open the window to get a better look at the storm, Adelice discovers that the scene is an illusion. The golden strands that typically represent time do not move in the fake landscape she sees from her window. Adelice begins manipulating the artificial weave with her bare hands, releasing the rain from the clouds overhead, when suddenly her mentor, Enora enters and introduces herself. Enora explains to Adelice that in order to ensure the Spinsters are safe, the Guild projects outdoor scenery onto a screen instead of permitting the Spinsters a view to the actual outdoors. With wonderment, Enora also asks Adelice about her ability to weave without the help of a loom. Adelice is surprised to find that this skill is one few people have. Enora warns Adelice to keep that particular skill to herself and advises her to use a loom to weave even when weaving on her own. Adelice agrees and begins to develop trust in her mentor.
Enora also tells Adelice that she will be in training for a month, though she may be cleared to become a Spinster before the month passes. Those who do not prove themselves capable Spinsters by the end of a month are assigned to be the Coventry servants. In order to prepare her for training, Adelice’s aesthetician, Valery washes and dresses Adelice so that she looks as polished as the other Eligibles. When she is finished, Adelice does not recognize her own image in the mirror, though both Enora and Valery seem incredibly proud with the results. Enora escorts Adelice to her first training class and on the way they walk past the boy who carried Adelice from her cell. Adelice feels giddy when she initially spots him but later notices the disappointment on his face when he sees that she’s begun conforming to the expectations of an Eligible instead of continuing to challenge them.
Startled by her encounter with the boy from the cell, Adelice asks Enora why there are boys in the Coventry. Enora initially explains that the men at the Coventry do certain jobs that the women don’t or can’t do for themselves. However, she later admits that the Guild allows men in the Coventry because it will not allow women to have complete control over anything. The two arrive at the first training session and Enora drops Adelice off with the remaining Eligibles. Adelice feels like she is back at Academy again and quickly discovers that the other girls are already familiar with one another. While she was spending the night in the cells, they were spending time together and getting to know one another. Adelice befriends a girl from Cypress named Pryana, who asks Adelice why she’s been given her own luxurious room while the rest of the girls are forced to share. Adelice suspects her special treatment has something to do with her ability to weave without a loom but, minding Enora’s advice, does not share this with Pryana.
During orientation Adelice learns that the peace she imagines exists in Arras, is actually fabricated by Spinsters. Whenever a strand, or person, exhibits criminal or “aberrant” behavior, Spinsters use a special technique to remove and replace the thread (77). After learning this, Adelice understand just why the Guild keeps the Spinsters from returning home. What would the citizens think if they knew the type of power the Guild had to “clean“ or replace them or their loved ones with little to no accountability? After the orientation video ends, Erik gives the girls a tour of the Coventry. Everybody, including Pryana, swoons over Erik and Pryana questions whether she’ll be able to maintain purity standards while he is around. As Erik walks the Eligibles through the Coventry, Adelice observes that even among Spinsters there is a hierarchy. Entry-level Spinsters manage farming and ration food to families throughout Arras, above them are the Spinsters who control the weather in each sector, the more gifted Spinsters work in the upper-level in the Emergency Department and in the Western Department of Origins, the department responsible for delivering babies. Pryana and Adelice grow closer during the tour. Adelice discovers that Pryana is one of ten other Eligibles from Cypress but that she, like Adelice, doesn’t get along with many of the other girls from her sector. Pryana also shares that her mother is a maid and that her younger sister is still in Academy but hopes to join her at the Coventry in a few years.
Suddenly the tour is interrupted and the Eligibles are led into a stone room with steel looms. Maela enters and announces a surprise test to measure the Eligible’s weaving ability. She explains that one of the most important parts of being a Spinster is removing (ripping) threads. Threads make up objects and people in Arras. A woven section of thread composes a place, and Spinsters must remove and redistribute the threads composing that place in order to maintain a safe balance. Maela cautions that a single weak thread poses a danger to all the threads surrounding it. Sometimes threads can be repaired and replaced but there are times when they must be removed. The other Eligibles nod in agreement with Maela but not Adelice who wonders why none of the other Eligibles challenge Maela’s explanation by asking questions. After demonstrating a removal, Maela asks for the Eligibles to try one on their own.
Pryana and Adelice are the only ones who don’t jump at the opportunity. When they are the only two remaining to take their turn, Adelice steps up first to allow Pryana more time to adjust to the idea of removing a person from the loom. Though she is able to locate the weak thread, Adelice does not believe it to be a threat to the remaining threads as Maela described and in fact thinks it may pose more of a risk to remove it. She refuses to remove the weak thread. Frustrated by her defiance, Maela rips the entire section, removing hundreds of threads both weak and strong. With satisfaction, she then turns to Pryana and excuses her from the test given her recent loss. Confused, Pryana asks what she has lost. Maela then reveals that the ripped section was the Academy in Cypress where Pryana’s younger sister attended school. Realizing that her sister is dead, Pryana turns her rage towards Adelice but before she can unleash much of her anger Erik grabs Adelice and carries her away from the room.
Erik escorts Adelice back to her dark, damp cell and seems impressed with her ability to stand up to Maela. Adelice guards her words around him, assuming everything she says to him will be communicated to Maela. Shortly after Erik leaves, the boy who carried Adelice from her cell the first time returns with a meal. He finally introduces himself as Josten (Jost) Bell, and tells Adelice he is the head valet of the Coventry. Adelice notices that Jost is not as well groomed as the other men in the Coventry but she also notices that she feels short of breath when they make eye contact. Jost tells Adelice that she is different from the other Eligibles who attempted to escape the Coventry because, unlike them, she’s still alive. Jost urges Adelice to keep a low profile and play dumb so they can find out what sets her apart. After Jost leaves, Adelice considers manipulating the weave in her cell to get warmth or more food. She recalls a time in her childhood when she first attempted to stretch food. Amie had taken the last bit of chocolate that the family had been rationed in order to show off at school and she was afraid her parents would find out. To protect her sister, Adelice stretched the small piece of chocolate into many more pieces by weaving. When her mother caught her she was sent directly to her room and told never to display her gifts because to do so was very dangerous. Remembering her mother’s stern warning, Adelice decides not to use her gift in the cell either lest someone discover her.
The next day, Maela visits Adelice’s cell to scold her for disobeying her orders and to show her the consequences of her actions. Using a digifile, a small handheld electronic device, Maela shows Adelice the number of people who died after she ripped the section in Cypress. Adelice resists taking the blame for the deaths and instead reminds Maela that the destruction was entirely her doing. Just as Maela leaves, Adelice asks her what happens to the ripped threads but Maela does not answer. Adelice wonders whether the ripped threads can ever be saved.
Shortly after her visit, Maela finally releases Adelice from her cell and permits her to join the other girls in training. Still enraged, Pryana punches Adelice in the face and promises to make her life at the Coventry torturous. Yet Adelice and Pryana are often grouped together in training, as they are the only two Eligibles who exhibit superior weaving skills. Both Pryana and Adelice move on to controlling the weather while the other Eligibles continue the basic task of weaving and rationing food. One day during training, both Adelice and Pryana are asked to cease working and meet with Erik in the hallway. The instructor announces that they are leaving because they’ve both been chosen to be Spinsters. In the hallway, Erik tells them that they will likely be the only two Spinsters chosen out of the group and the other girls will be relegated to menial weaving tasks like tailoring clothing or continuing to ration food.
Erik escorts the two girls to meet with their mentors. As they walk, Adelice asks him how he began working at the Coventry. He shares that he ran away from home at fifteen years of age and was later recruited to work as Maela’s assistant because of his “flexible morals” (117). When they arrive at Adelice’s room she feels a tinge of disappointment that she won’t be able to spend the rest of the day with him. However, Erik doesn’t occupy Adelice’s mind for long because as soon as she enters the room Enora announces that Adelice has been invited to attend a special council meeting with Ambassador Patton. Though Maela and Patton sit on the council together, Maela will not attend the meeting because, Enora explains, the Guild is displeased with Maela’s habit of acting hastily and without approval. Though Maela appears to control the Coventry, she is actually controlled by higher-ranking men who sit on the Guild. Indeed, Ambassador Patton’s role is not simply to report Coventry activities to the public but rather to keep women like Maela, who seek control over their own lives, in their places.
Enora walks Adelice to the meeting with Ambassador Patton and he asks Enora to leave them alone. However, they are not the only ones in the room. Jost is there as well, serving Ambassador Patton. Adelice loses her breath when she sees him but is still able to engage in playful yet combative banter with Ambassador Patton. Patton tells Adelice that his primary goal is to keep her alive but that he’ll need her to stop provoking Maela in order to succeed because so long as Adelice remains in Maela’s control, Patton cannot completely protect her. He does however promise that if Maela kills Adelice then he will ‘rip’, or kill, her in response. Ambassador Patton then invites Adelice to join him on a public-relations tour of Arras on the weekend. The public-relations tour is broadcast into every home in Arras so Patton reminds Adelice once again that she must maintain a happy demeanor or else her sister will be harmed. She agrees to accompany him but then asks for information regarding her mother. Patton pages a woman named Penny for information on Meria Lewys and Penny reports that Meria’s been ripped. Amie, however, is alive though Patton had her thread ‘cleaned’, a process that allows a remapping of an individual’s brain. Patton explains that the process is typically used on young children who exhibit violent or unruly behavior. It allows examiners to track brain processes, locate areas causing the violence or mischief both in the brain and on an individuals’ thread, and then replace those problem areas in the thread with artificial thread pieces. Admittedly, the process is still experimental, but Patton hopes to one day be able to use it to prevent aging and behavioral problems. In order to prove to Adelice that Amie is alive, well, and still worth protecting, he uses location services to show Amie’s current whereabouts. Adelice becomes emotional when she sees the image of her sister walking and laughing with a new friend on Patton’s screen. Once again, she agrees to put on a smiling face in order to protect her sister’s life.
Adelice rejoices when Erik returns and rescues her from spending another minute with Ambassador Patton. On the way back to her room, she bursts into tears and Erik gives her his handkerchief. When Adelice tries to return it he says she should keep it, she’ll need it more than he will.
In order to maintain order and deception, the Guild employs several strategies against its citizens. As Adelice leaves her hometown for the first time, she begins to understand how the Guild controls even the educations of schoolchildren in order to produce an ignorant and unsuspecting citizenry that is likely to remain obedient to the government. Like the scene in her Coventry window, much of the Arras Adelice learned about in school is nothing but an intricate illusion, maintained by a few powerful men.
This section is the first to develop several of the novel’s main characters. The change in setting forces Adelice to ask herself who she really is. And as she becomes more aware of the true workings of Arras, Adelice also becomes increasingly aware of her own identity. She enters the Coventry as a traitor, relegated to the locked cells in the basement, and during her first few weeks at the Coventry must decide whether to accept the Spinster life without question or continue rebelling. The mirror appears as a symbol in this section to reflect these competing identities. At one instance, Adelice knows and recognizes herself, not as the same Adelice from Romen, but as a more mature version of that person. And in the next instance, Adelice looks in the mirror and it’s as though she’s staring at a perfect stranger. She’s not built for the Spinster life but she’s not certain that she’s capable of combating the powerful Guild either.
This section also further characterizes Jost, in part by finally revealing his name. Adelice’s first impression of him is that he is more than a mere errand boy and their subsequent interactions imply that her intuition is correct. Jost is the embodiment of the quiet rebellion that Adelice hears whispers of during her Spinster training. He lives in the Coventry but resists its influence, complying just enough to appear obedient but secretly harboring a great deal of frustration. Given Jost’s discontent and impatience with all that concerns the Guild, it’s ironic that Ambassador Patton takes such a liking to him.
In this section, readers also learn just how sinister Maela can be. The description of her just before she destroys the Academy in Cypress captures much of her character: “Maela towers in front of us, her crimson dress a splash of blood against the dark backdrop of the men” (86). The metaphor comparing her dress to blood foreshadows the impending death Maela is about to cause by ripping the section in Cypress, and symbolizes Maela’s murderous spirit. However, the blood-red dress, which hangs from Maela’s own frame, also demonstrates the extent to which she too is at risk. Indeed, Ambassador Patton holds the power to kill her with a single command should she ever step too far out of line. Maela’s positioning in front of the male guards is also significant. She stands powerfully in the foreground while a group of men linger behind. Her confidence is a threat to the male-run Guild: it threatens to outshine them, particularly when she refuses to be cowed by their warnings and threats.
The end of the section foreshadows just how impossible it will be for Adelice to escape the suffocating control of the Guild. So long as they have her sister, Adelice is a slave to the Guild’s requests. And she is not the only one trapped. The Spinsters too are locked in a world of their own making, though some are too blinded by the lavish meals and fancy clothing to notice. Adelice remarks that “[wild] creatures are happy enough if they don’t know they’re being kept in a cage” (81). One interpretation of this statement is that it is a metaphor for the Spinsters (wild creatures) in the Coventry (a cage, albeit a beautiful one). However as her own ignorance fades, Adelice begins to perceive the entirety of Arras as a cage of which she is all too aware and from which she must escape.