by Tessa Gratton
E-ARC, 400 pages
Published September 18th, 2018 by Margaret McElderry Books
Once, a witch made a pact with a devil. The legend says they loved each other, but can the story be trusted at all? Find out in this lush, atmospheric fantasy novel that entwines love, lies, and sacrifice.
Long ago, a village made a bargain with the devil: to ensure their prosperity, when the Slaughter Moon rises, the village must sacrifice a young man into the depths of the Devil’s Forest.
Only this year, the Slaughter Moon has risen early.
Bound by duty, secrets, and the love they share for one another, Mairwen, a spirited witch; Rhun, the expected saint; and Arthur, a restless outcast, will each have a role to play as the devil demands a body to fill the bargain. But the devil these friends find is not the one they expect, and the lies they uncover will turn their town—and their hearts—inside out.
I received an e-ARC of this book from publishers through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
In the village of Three Graces, everything is perfect. There is no illness, drought, blight, plague, hunger, and early death. Everything is perfect due to a bargain strike with the Devil in the forest hundreds of years ago. The price they pay is a steep one: their best boy has to run through the Devil’s forest, either survive or died and crowned saint. It was a worth price for 7 years of peace, but this time, the bargain only last for three years.
Something is wrong, and Mairwen wouldn’t rest until she knows why. Not only when it’s her two best friends, Rhun and Arthur, that are on the line.
This book is a strange read indeed. The setting was atmospheric, felt like medieval village that has a witch living in it, and magic is part of the normal life. But it also has this eerie, creepy feeling. The best I can describe it gives similar feelings as in Henrietta in The Raven Cycle.
The story started out really well, I love how it started at the past Slaughter Moon and move towards the present. The setting really fits the story and the characters, and the writing flows really well. The prose really fits the beauty and eerie-ness of the village and the ritual. There are three main characters in this book and the stories are told from their point of view:
- Mairwen, the daughter of the current Grace witch and one of the past Saint, which caused her to hear the call of the forest stronger than anyone else. She’s strongheaded and brave, would do anything for Rhun and Arthur.
- Rhun, the current best boy and so, 99% confirmed to be the next runner. Perfect in everything, would do anything for Arthur, Mairwen, and the village. Loves Arthur but everyone assumes he’ll settle with Mairwen.
- Arthur, step-brother of Rhun, full of thorns but actually a sunshine. Due to his parents choices, he’s shunned by the whole village even though he actually has a chance to beat Rhun as the next runner. Would do anything to replace Rhun and protect Mairwen. Forever confused of his identity.
However, my initial intrigue quickly turn into frustration. The pacing is really slow and drags at some places, with the first arc took around 40% to pick up. It got interesting for a while afterwards, before soon got back into the slow pacing. The structure of the story also confused me, and not in the good way. It flustered me, and I felt like starting to lose threads of the story.
The characters, and the dynamic between them, whom I initially like, also turned uncomfortable for me to read. I expected them to be my new favorite relationships, however, there is a very clear pairing in their dynamics. This makes me wonder why is this a triangle at all, and their relationships actually distracts me from their character growth and story arc as a whole.
The final arc starts around the final 22% of the book and it was exhilarating. There were a lot of reveals and magic and urgency all around; the story moves forward at breakneck speed. While I enjoyed it, it felt too rushed at times; I wish the author spend less time in the first arc and instead develop more the second and third arc.
Strange Grace is a beautiful and strange read. I can’t stop thinking that this book is The Raven Cycle if it was written by Holly Black: beautiful, with strange, eerie, and sometimes dark magic. The characters were a delight to read and while the twists did not surprise me, they were still enjoyable. Unfortunately, the pacing was too slow for my liking and the format of the story bewildered me.