Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon

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Coon, Kelly. Gravemaidens. Delacorte, 2019. 416p. ISBN: 9780525647829. $17.99. MS HS AT *****

Kammani dreams of being a healer in the walled city-state of Alu, where her family lives in poverty. When the ruler of Alu falls ill, Kammani’s younger sister, Nanea, is selected as one of three sacred maidens to accompany him into the afterlife. All the people of Alu—including Nanea—view this as an honor and a way to achieve glory in the afterlife, while Kammani sees it for the death sentence it really is. In order to save her sister, Kammani only has one choice: get into the palace and heal the ruler before his death takes her sister away.

Gravemaidens is a compelling start of a fantasy duology. It’s “light” fantasy—i.e. it doesn’t contain any epic fantasy elements and doesn’t have the dense world-building that might scare newer fantasy readers away. However, it will also be adored by dedicated fantasy readers. It almost reads as a historical novel in that it feels more like it takes place in a different time. It has a hint of romance and mystery, which gives it great crossover genre appeal. Gravemaidens also boasts a cast of supporting characters that bring the story to life, from Kammani’s sassy best friend to her young, wistful sister.

“Gravemaidens” will appeal to both middle and high school students, though there are some mature themes that should be kept in mind. The romance does not go beyond flirtation and kissing. There are mentions/descriptions of death (specifically death of a parent), illness, and medical treatment, as well as a graphic birthing scene.

This fast-paced yet easy-to-follow novel is full of powerful girls fighting for what they love, and a believable world that comes to life. The themes of sisterhood and sacrifice will make this a perfect recommendation for Hunger Games fans; readers who love Graceling, An Ember in the Ashes, and We Set the Dark on Fire will also greatly enjoy Gravemaidens. The second installment in this duology, Warmaidens, will release in October 2020.

-Ari Nussbaum, Hayward Public Library

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