I received an advance reader copy of this book through NetGalley. I am providing a voluntary review.
Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon was on my October 2019 TBR (to be read) list as soon as I saw it, and I was so excited to get a copy just before it was released. I was definitely not disappointed!
TRIGGER WARNING: This book includes substance use, violence, murder, unwanted sexual advances, and arranged teen marriages.
Kammani lives in the walled city-state of Alu, and strives to be the skillful healer that her father was, before her family was cast down from their respected position in society.
But when the ruler of Alu is so sick that his death is imminent, three sacred maidens are chosen for the honor of joining him in the afterlife. It is a tradition, and Kammani’s beautiful little sister, Nanaea, is chosen as one of the maidens. Nanaea sees this as a chance to live a better life than the one that she had before her family was cast down. Only Kammani sees this honor as a death sentence.
Kammani is frantic to save her sister, and hatches a plot to get into the palace so that she can heal the ruler. But once she is inside the palace, she finds even more danger than she had realized possible, dangers that threaten her life and her heart. Kammani is determined, and vows that nothing will stand in the way of finding out the truth, even if she has to make the ultimate sacrifice.
It’s a refreshing change to see a YA fantasy story that features non-traditional characters and settings. I recognized a Middle Eastern vibe pretty early on, but as the book went on, I realized that Kelly Coon had taken us further back in time to Mesopotamia. I loved the setting, and could easily picture it as I read. Her descriptions are beautiful and evocative, and I enjoyed that she went out of the ordinary fantasy setting.
Kammani is a likable character from the start. She’s young but smart and responsible. She has already taken on a parenting role for her sister, and experienced a lot of heartache, although she focuses on what she has to do. As expected, she isn’t great at expressing her feelings, but that is part of what I like so much about her – she isn’t a perfect character. Her flaws are what make her so relatable. I always identify more with a character who makes mistakes, but provides reasoning why. Kammani has a difficult relationship with Dagan, her sort-of love interest, but she struggles with the idea of wanting to be successful at healing and the idea of being tied to a man and playing the role of wife and mother. Even though this story takes place ages ago, I feel like this is still a struggle that women go through today. Granted, it isn’t something we tend to deal with at 16, but keep in mind, this isn’t modern day society. It is ancient Mesopotamia, where women were married with kids at that age. I liked that Kammani shows growth through the book, and wonder where the next book takes her.
The fantasy world is well overdue for more diverse settings and characters, and this book nailed it. I loved the idea of a book with characters that non-Caucasian readers can identify with. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I read this, since I went in with a completely clean slate. I had read the description, but no reviews, and I hadn’t seen any online chatter. I found the book to be suspenseful right from the start, and full of action. Kammani is a strong, independent woman, and based on the book, women at that time had some independence, but not to the level that we are accustomed to in modern society. I liked the characters (although there are some that you love to hate), and there were definite plot twists that were unexpected. I like a book that is unpredictable, and I’m already looking forward to the next book in this duology.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 18
Categories: Book Review