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 marriage (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.