OMG!!! It’s FINALLY time for my tour stop for Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon!!!! As most of y’all know, I am a part of Kell’s amazing Skeleton Crew, so I have been screaming about this book for some time. Not only do I have a review for you, but I also have a fantastic Q&A with Kell, so be sure to check that out as well!
Author: Kelly Coon
Publication Date: 29 October 2019
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Delacorte Press
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.
Gravemaidens is a richly imagined fantasy debut that focuses on the bonds of sisterhood amongst a looming backdrop of human sacrifice. This story does not shy away from the violence and gore that takes place in the kingdom of Alu, so keep that in mind when diving into this deliciously dark fantasy.
Kammani is the daughter of the former greatest healer in the kingdom of Alu. Even though he was the best ruler in Alu, he was unable to save the life of the ruler’s son. The ruler retaliated by stripping his title and taking his son Kasha to serve at the palace. Following the passing of her mother, Kammani’s father drowns his grief in alcohol, which makes it almost impossible to heal anyone. Kammani is forced to abandon her own childhood to become a mother to her sister, the next generation healer, as well as the breadwinner for their family. All Kammani wants in life is to restore her family’s honor by becoming the next greatest healer like her father.
In the kingdom of Alu, when the Lugal (ruler) falls ill, three maidens are selected in a highly esteemed festival. When the Lugal dies, these three girls will be sacrificed and accompany him to the afterlife as his wives. The girls chosen are typically between the ages of 15-16, are gorgeous, and come from a family with status. Since Kammani’s family has is shamed, she never thought to worry about Nanea, her sister whose beauty rivaled even that of the ruler’s daughter. That is…until Nanea is selected as one of the three maidens. Now Kammani must do whatever it takes to keep Nanea from being sacrificed, even if it’s against Nanea’s wishes.
Kammani is such a fantastic protagonist because she’s so incredibly strong, independent, and determined. That being said, she is not without flaws. Since she was forced to become both the caretaker and provider of her family at such a young age, she is unwilling to accept the aid of others even when she absolutely should. I really enjoyed watching the metamorphosis of her character as well as her learning to accept help in order to ultimately save Nanea. Nanea was the picture perfect, carefree younger sibling that could care less about responsibility and duty. As an older sibling myself, there were definitely times that I found Nanea frustrating.
Overall, Gravemaidens is a stunning introduction to this duology laced with incredible world building, enthralling characters, and a compelling fantasy plot. If you love stories that focus on familial bonds while allowing you to be swept up into a fantasy realm then you need this book now!
Thank you to Delacorte Press and NetGalley for the eARC. This did not influence my review. All opinions are my own.
Alright, so now it’s time for an awesome Q&A with Kell! Here we go!
What was your inspiration for creating a story that delved into the darkness of the underworld?
I’ve done a lot of research into the ancient practices of human sacrifice (wow, that sounds horrifying, but here we are), and I find it fascinating that someone would kill someone else just because they can or that someone would willingly choose to die for the promise of an afterlife that cannot be confirmed.
Who are some of your author idols?
I have so many and for various reasons. I love Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver, Anita Diamant, Leigh Bardugo, Sabaa Tahir, Renee Ahdieh, Marie Lu, Victoria Aveyard, John Sandford (guilty pleasure reading), Jeffrey Eugenides, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and approximately 168 others.
If you could go to dinner with three people, dead or alive, who would you choose and (a quick) why?
Jesus (I just need to know the story from his POV)
Queen Elizabeth I (respected globally, led a nation, didn’t give a damn about people badmouthing her)
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (partly responsible for the 1848 Seneca Falls convention, wrote a women’s rights supplement to the King James Bible, overall badassery)
Did you have to do a lot of mythological research for Gravemaidens?
I did a lot of research for Gravemaidens on all sorts of things. Everything from traditional medicinal tinctures to natural birthing methods to farming barley and where to stab a person if you want them to bleed a lot, but not die. I did research some ancient myths to help bolster my fantasy world, but did not use any actual myth from any ancient cultures in my story.
Is the genre(s) that you read for pleasure the same as the genre that you write? Why or why not.
Sometimes! I’ve always read a lot of YA and continue to read it because I love it and it helps me get a feel for the market. I also read thrillers and murder mysteries along with popular fiction, so I get a good sampling, I think!
What was the turning point in your life to make you realize that you wanted to be an author?
I always wanted to be a writer. I can’t think of a time when I didn’t want to be an author. I started thinking I could be an actual novelist, however, when I started writing my first YA contemporary novel in 2005. Before then, I wrote poetry, short stories, personal essays, and scholarly nonfiction pieces.
What’s your current guilty pleasure song to listen to?
I love “Bounce Back” by Big Sean. It’s on my workout playlist and it reminds me that I can keep going, no matter how hard I fall.
What is your absolute favorite meal?
Hmmm. Let’s see. If I had to choose (and this is VERY DIFFICULT), I’d probably have to say Thai yellow vegetable curry with jasmine rice or Ethiopian injera with ye misr wot (or basically any Ethiopian dish). One of my favorite restaurants in Tampa is called Queen of Sheba, and my husband and I like to go in and get the Queen’s Eight Platter, which has eight little scoops of all sorts of stews that you eat with the injera. I swear, I’d eat there every single day if I could.
Thank you so much for having me, Toya!!!