Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon (Review)

We can never know for certain what lies beyond the grave. It could be an honor. But it could be emptiness. Or horror. We won’t know until we cross the river ourselves.

I devoured and loved this when it was first released, but never got around to reviewing it. So, after my reread this March to get ready for Warmaidens in October, it’s time to put my thoughts down in a more coherent form than just screaming on twitter and in my friend’s DMs.

Rating: 4 stars!

Read me for the:

  • Healer-not-a-fighter
  • Complicated familial relationships
  • Too busy for romance and babies protagonist
  • Antagonists that I want to push into a well

The plot:

Kammani lives in Alu, a walled-city, and all she wants is to become a great healer like her father used to be before he was cast down in shame when he failed to save the Lugal’s son. Now the Lugal is dying, and Kammani is the only one who can save him even though she hates him. Unfortunately, Kammani’s beloved sister Nanaea has been chosen to be one of the Lugal’s Sacred Maidens to join him in the afterlife. Nanaea thinks it’s an honour, a chance to live a better life. Kammani thinks it’s a death sentence and nothing more. So now, Kammani has to save the king, even if she can’t save herself in the process of uncovering the palace’s secrets.

What did I think?

I think the biggest thing that sticks with me about this book is how much it’s fully committed to Kammani’s perspective. Everything we see, we see through her eyes, even when it’s biased. Nanaea is… super annoying. Really, really annoying. But I’m taking that as a good thing. Kammani is the picture perfect definition of the Long Suffering Older Sister, so it makes sense that from her perspective, Nanaea would seem flighty and irresponsible and completely reckless. Nanaea has been taken in by the legends of her town, and those legends claim that the Lugal’s chosen Sacred Maidens will accompany him in the afterlife for eternal glory. Kammani doesn’t believe that, and she’s terrified of losing the family she has left.

Kammani is conflicted, healing a man that she hates to save the sister that doesn’t want saving, and putting herself in danger in the process. There’s something afoot in the palace, someone unseen that doesn’t want her to heal the Lugal, and they’re willing to stop her at any cost. The stakes are ridiculously high the entire way through, and that makes the slow pacing feel so good. It’s not a bad kind of slow, but a steady pacing that totally matches the characters. I like that this fantasy isn’t about sword swinging and big battles but about healing, a steady trial and error to try and right wrongs. I was on the edge of my seat, watching little puzzle pieces fall into place and constantly watching for everything to go awry so I could get answers of the mystery within a mystery within a mystery plot.

The characters are all fully and beautifully formed, and I loved that, with the exception of a few awful men (I hate all of them and everything they did in this book – fantasy women continue to have the worst luck) it was impossible to tell who was good and who was bad. I didn’t see the plot twists coming until they twisted the rug out from under my feet. I didn’t love the side characters as much as other reviewers seemed to, I wasn’t engaged in the romance subplot and while Iltani was interesting, I didn’t see the character other readers seemed to find in her, but Nasu and Arwia were incredible and I loved them.

I’m sitting on a review copy of Warmaidens right now and I can’t wait to dig into it and find out how this story ends, and I’m praying that a certain asshole character is going to get what he deserves.

Links:

Add it on Goodreads here!

Buy at Waterstones or Amazon (not affiliated) and if you can, please support your local indie booksellers!

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