High Stakes in an Outstanding Debut | Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon

Friday, October 18, 2019

Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon

Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: 10/29/19
Pages: 416
Source: publisher in exchange for an honest review
The start of a fierce fantasy duology about three maidens who are chosen for their land's greatest honor...and one girl determined to save her sister from the grave. In the walled city-state of Alu, Kammani wants nothing more than to become the accomplished healer her father used to be before her family was cast out of their privileged life in shame. When Alu's ruler falls deathly ill, Kammani’s beautiful little sister, Nanaea, is chosen as one of three sacred maidens to join him in the afterlife. It’s an honor. A tradition. And Nanaea believes it is her chance to live an even grander life than the one that was stolen from her. But Kammani sees the selection for what it really is—a death sentence. Desperate to save her sister, Kammani schemes her way into the palace to heal the ruler. There she discovers more danger lurking in the sand-stone corridors than she could have ever imagined and that her own life—and heart—are at stake. But Kammani will stop at nothing to dig up the palace’s buried secrets even if it means sacrificing everything…including herself.
The ruler of Alu is dying. That means only one thing. It’s time to choose the Sacred Maidens who will accompany the lugal, or ruler, of the city into the Afterlife. When Nanaea is chosen as a Maiden, she and all the townspeople see it as a great honor and blessing. Except Kammani, Nanaea’s sister, who sees the tradition for what it is: murder. Kammani strives to save her sister at all costs. She is called to heal the lugal but all may not be as it seems in the palace. When she glimpses too much of the truth, Kammani realizes that the path ahead is dangerous, knowing that it may only end in death. Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon is a magnificent debut with a unique story that you’ve never seen before.

  • Gravemaidens was able to give readers a lot of information without dumping too much information at once. Instead, Kelly Coon slides a little bit of world building into every scene and without even realizing it, I was already deeply immersed into the story. 
  • From the first chapter, the stakes were placed extremely high. Nanaea is chosen to be a Sacred Maiden. In Kammani’s eyes, that's a death sentence. A lot of people do not see it that way; they focus on what an honor it is. These differing perspectives easily increase the stakes because the majority of characters do not see it as life threatening. It's absolutely genius. On the one side, there’s Kammani (and me). And on the other side was everyone else in the book, celebrating because the standing-ruler is going to murder three women to join the lugal in his tomb. Gravemaidens is a heart pounding journey that has to be finished in one sitting. 
  • Coon’s writing is absolutely superb. The immersive world, coupled with Kammani’s curious perspective makes for a page turner like no other. 
  • In many cultures, people believed that they had to be buried with what they would take with them when they crossed over. In Egyptian culture, they were sometimes buried with their pets (who—I recall—were alive). Those history lessons in school always left me curious to learn more. And finally, an amazing author wrote a book focusing on that aspect of the Afterlife. It was everything I wanted and more!

  • Going into the book, I expected a unique view on the Afterlife as well as a strong sisterly bond. For sure, readers receive Kammani’s modern perspective on the Afterlife. Kammani is seen as the sensible, reliable sister. She’s also an apprentice to her father, a healer. We follow her story as she tries to not only save the lugal from death but also her sister. You'd think this act of saving her sister would strengthen her bond with Nanaea but instead because of the warring perspectives, Nanaea essentially despises her for it. Nanaea is unlikable and completely naive. I’m not saying Kammani wasn’t in the wrong for some things but Nanaea never gives her sister a chance to explain her side. Gravemaidens reflects a side of siblings that readers don’t often see in YA. Instead of a strong sisterly bond, the book tackles raw and complex familial relationships
  • There was a little bit of romance which I adored in between stressful moments. The romance is, however, stunted by the lack of communication which is infuriating. I hope more comes of it in the sequel. 
  • There is certainly never a dull moment. The last hundred pages go by in almost warp speed. Gravemaidens is fast paced but the ending of the book jumped from 50mph to 100mph in no time at all. The ending was outstanding, with the reveals and Kammani’s quick thinking. It was so tense to a stomach-aching degree that I will be counting down the days until the sequel releases in 2020. 

This book deserves several more rereads to fully appreciate. Its heart pounding, jaw dropping journey takes readers completely by surprise. Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon is a masterful debut that twists your insides. It's a page turner like no other with a fantastic world and complex characters. Gravemaidens needs to be on your radar!!

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