Review: Grace and Fury

Grace and Fury
By Tracy Banghart
Published by Little Brown July 31, 2018

Grace and Fury is a compulsively readable, deeply feminist YA fantasy.

Sisters Serina and Nomi live in Viridia, a country with a very repressive government run by the Superior. Women are not allowed to attend school or learn to read. Most people are poor, and for most women, their only options are working long hours in a factory or Grace and Furymarriage (and marriage is no guarantee that you won’t also have to work in a factory). For the very beautiful, there is one chance at a different life, being chosen to serve as a Grace for the Superior or his son, the Heir. Graces are sort of like a harem; there are many of them and they bear the Superior’s children, but they also have a public, ornamental role at the court. The Superior chooses three new Graces every 3 years, and women from all over the country compete for the “honor.”

Because Selina is very beautiful, her family has groomed her to compete to be a Grace. She’s given more food than the rest of the family, to give her curves, and all of their limited resources go toward training her for this role. She is chosen to represent their town, and she and Nomi travel to the capital city of Bellaqua for the selection, which will be different this year because the Heir is choosing his first three Graces. Nomi will serve as Serina’s handmaiden, but she hates the whole concept of Graces and doesn’t want to be there. She also has a very big secret: she knows how to read.

Once they arrive at the Superior’s palace, things go horribly wrong. The Heir chooses Nomi as one of his Graces, and Serina is caught with a book that Nomi stole and arrested. Now Nomi has to figure out how to survive as a Grace on her own, while Serina is sent to a horrible prison on a volcanic island, Mount Ruin.

The story is told in a dual narrative, with alternating chapters from the points of view of each sister. The dual narrative works well for the story, since there are obvious parallels between the sisters’ circumstances: Serina is fighting for her life in a vicious prison, and Nomi is in a far more luxurious, but just as dangerous place. Mount Ruin is as awful as it sounds. The prisoners live in caves and the ruins of buildings that were destroyed during a volcanic eruption. The women are forced to fight each other in an arena, for extra food and the entertainment of the (all male) guards. For Serina, a young woman who has spent most of her life learning to be ornamental, it’s a brutal place and she has to figure our how to survive. Serina’s character arc is the more interesting one, as she goes from being a sheltered, pampered young woman prepared to live within the system and not rock the boat to someone who yearns to rebel and fight for change.

I found Nomi a bit less sympathetic, because she’s hopelessly naive and does some things that were such obviously bad ideas that I cringed. She has a lot of high ideals, but she tends to rush into things without thinking them through. Her position at court is an odd one. The other potential Graces were mostly desperate to be chosen, and no one, expecially Nomi herself, can understand why the Heir chose a handmaiden who doesn’t seem to want to be there at all. The Heir, Malachi, is stiff and formal, and Nomi can’t get a read on him. His brother Asa is far more appealing to Nomi, but can either of them be trusted?

Grace and Fury was very entertaining. It’s a scary look at a world where women have no rights (shades of the Handmaid’s Tale), and I’m excited to see where the sequel goes. The ending sets things up for a very interesting next book.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.

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Review: From Twinkle, with Love

From Twinkle, with Love
By Sandhya Menon
Published May 22, 2018 by Simon Pulse

From Twinkle, with Love is a fun, diverse contemporary read. Twinkle Mehra is 16 and wants to be a filmmaker. While she’s not exactly unpopular, she’s not exactly popular either, and her status as what she calls a “groundling” (a name for the people in the cheap seats in Shakespeare’s time) is reinforced by the fact that her long-time best friend Maddie has basically deserted her to join a more popular group. They still talk, but Maddie is leaving Twinkle behind and it hurts. When Twinkle gets the opportunity to Twinkledirect a film for a school project, encouraged by a fellow student, Sahil, she jumps at the chance, seeing an opportunity to pursue her movie dreams and a chance to spend more time with Sahil’s twin brother Neil, her crush. Twinkle is convinced that if she is dating Neil, it will give her an in with Maddie’s new crowd. When Twinkle starts receiving emails from a secret admirer named N, she’s sure that it’s Neil. There’s just one big problem: she’s falling for Sahil.

This book was really fluffy and fun, but it also managed to work in some interesting issues. Twinkle goes to a charter school where she’s one of the poorest people. Her family isn’t technically poor (they have a house and enough to eat), but there’s no money for extras (like a cell phone), which sets Twinkle apart from most of the students at Twinkle’s school and especially from Maddie’s new crowd. The book also shows that not all immigrant experiences are the same. Although Sahil is half-Indian, his life is pretty different than Twinkle’s. Her parents came from very impoverished backgrounds in India, while Sahil’s parents are well-off college professors.

Twinkle’s relationship with her parents is difficult. Her dad works with at-risk kids and spends more time with them than he does with his daughter, and her mother misses India deeply and seems to be suffering from depression. Luckily, Twinkle has her awesome grandmother, Dadi, who always supports her. Twinkle also learns about how her mother grew up in India, and realizes how much her parents have sacrificed to give her a better life.

I liked the book’s format. It’s written in the form of diary entries that are letters to Twinkle’s favorite female directors. Twinkle can be a little frustrating at times, and she makes some not so great choices, but her hanging on to the idea of Neil makes sense in the context of her desperation to hold on to her former best friend. And her mistakes lead to some excellent character growth, as she learns to stand up for herself and what’s really important to her.

I received this ARC as part of Miss Print’s ARC Adoption Program.

 

 

Review: Bring Me Their Hearts

Bring Me Their Hearts
By Sara Wolf
Published June 5, 2018 by Entangled Teen

Bring Me Their Hearts was so much fun. It’s a YA fantasy with undead witch servants, duels, a brooding prince, an ineffectual king, and a nasty villain. I loved it.

Zera is a Heartless. Three years ago, she was human, until she died, and a witch named Nightsinger took her heart and brought her back to life. Now her heart lives in a jar, and she has to do the witch’s bidding. The life of a Heartless isn’t easy. They are constantly huBring Me Their Heartsngry and want to kill humans. The only thing that can assuage their hunger is raw meat. They can eat human food, but it gives them horrible pain and makes them cry bloody tears. Zera desperately wants her freedom, and Nightsinger offers it to her in exchange for bringing her the heart of a prince, Lucien d’Malvane, the Crown Prince of Cavanos.

Zera joins the court, posing as the long-lost niece of a noblewomen, Lady Y’shennria, and a potential bride for the prince. Thirty years early, the witches lost a religious war. Cavanos now worships a new god, Kavar, while the witches still practice the old religion. The king and his Archduke, the creepy Gavik, are hunting the witches to extinction. Zera must learn how to behave at court, which involves a lot of unpleasant things like wearing a corset and practicing eating human food while trying not to cry bloody tears in public.

Zera is an awesome character. She’s funny, tough, and sassy, and she’s also got a lot of inner torment, because of her guilt for killing the men who killed her family. Lucien seems like an entitled jerk at first, but he has hidden depths, and their relationship is interesting to watch, as they go from dislike to something more. I liked Zera’s struggle with developing feelings with someone she plans to turn into a monster. It’s a unique form of courting, I suppose.

I really liked the supporting characters and their relationships with Zera. Lady Y’shennria is working with the witches, but she’s very conflicted about having a Heartless in her house. She and Zera butt heads, but eventually form a grudging respect for each other. Zera forms an alliance with another noblewoman at court, Lady Fione, the niece of the evil Gavik. Zera is very jealous of her at first, but they eventually become friends. She also has a funny relationship with Lucien’s bodyguard, Malachite, who matches her in snarkiness.

The only weakness for me was that I found the political storyline a little underdeveloped. There’s conflict between worshipers of the old and the new god, but the differences between the two religions weren’t really explored, and I didn’t get a sense of why there’s so much conflict. But this is the first book in a trilogy, and I imagine the world building will be expanded in the next two books.

The book ends on a serious cliffhanger, and I can’t wait to see where the story goes.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.