Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton
About the Book
Publisher: Margaret McElderry Books | Release Date: September 18, 2018 | Pages: 389
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy | Format: eARC | Source: Publisher via Netgalley
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.
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This is such a weird and beautiful book. Friends, I am struggling to find the words to articulate how much I adored this book. While the premise of hundreds-year old pacts that provide prosperity to a town in return for sacrifice isn’t new, I found Strange Grace to be refreshing and captivatingly written. It is one of the best witch stories I’ve ever read.
Three Graces is an idyllic town: there is no disease, the weather is perfect, injuries heal overnight, and crops grow in abundance. Provided that the bargain is upheld every seven years on the Slaughter Moon, everyone is safe. Everyone except for the town’s best boy, who volunteers for the honor of being named the next saint and ensuring that the bargain continues. Everything has gone smoothly for two hundred years, but something is wrong with the bargain and the Slaughter Moon has come four years early.
“He will live or die on his own mettle, and for his sacrifice the devil blesses Three Graces.”
The book is told in the alternating perspectives of our three main characters, each of whom are tied inextricably to the bargain as well as each other. Their love for one another, as well as their town, is absolutely endearing.
Mairwen Grace is the daughter of a Grace witch and a saint. She loves deeply and practices her craft differently than her mother. She feels a deep responsibility for the well being of the town and those she loves.
Arthur Couch was raised as a girl, Lyn because his mother didn’t want him to be named saint and run for the bargain: “to have a son in Three Graces was to live in terrible fear.” Unfortunately, his secret was discovered, and he’s made himself hard to prove his “manliness” to the town, wanting to be named the saint but no one really taking him seriously.
Rhun Sayer comes from a line of two saints and has almost been raised with the expectation of his fate, to the point that he assumed that he has no future after his run. He is good, pure, and kind — just the characteristics that would make him the best boy and saint.
The ways that the book tackles the society’s expectations of gender is nuanced, from Arthur’s genderfluid identity to the gender reversal of the “sacrificial lamb.” Three Graces is not without its gender roles, and it was heartbreaking to watch Arthur struggle to fit into either of the worlds but falling in-between. My favorite character is by far Arthur – watching his arc and coming into himself was such a breath of fresh air. I struggled a bit with his internalized homophobia and transphobia early in the book, but that was as much about himself than a product of the society – there are a number of queer relationships in this book, including a polyamorous one, and the representation is heartwarming.
I truly adore books where both the plot and characters drive the story forward, and I can say that this is the case here! The characters bring a heart to the story and humanize it, but the lore of Three Graces and the bargain are interesting on their own. The prose gripped me, the characters tugged at my heartstrings, and the plot had me devouring the words – I read this book in one day because I was absolutely engrossed by it. I do wish that the magic system was explained a bit more; we do not learn how it works or what the limits are. It seems to be rooted in historical practices of witchcraft, but I don’t have enough knowledge to have been able to fully understand. This will not likely be an issue for every reader, but it was a noticeable gap in my enjoyment because I almost felt like I was supposed to know about this stuff already rather than have it built into the world and story.
Gratton’s writing is poetic, descriptive, and absolutely captivating. The characters are full of life and each experience development, and I truly enjoyed reading each of the perspectives. Often times multiple perspectives wind up being jumbled, but the way that the story develops it just flowed. Melanie said to me that reading this book is like reading a lucid dream and I cannot think of a better way to describe it. It’s weird, and you will likely be a bit confused in the beginning with the character relationships, but I sure you will settle in and fall in love.
Overall, Strange Grace is an amazingly atmospheric and poetically written story that celebrates the found family, the love people feel for one another, and the sacrifices they are willing to make for the people they love. While I was left a little unfulfilled with the ending, this is a lovely standalone and I totally wholeheartedly recommend this book and I hope that you pick it up.
Content Warnings: animal death, bullying, death of a parent, gore, human sacrifice