Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon

3 / 5 stars
Read in September 2020
Book #1 in the Gravemaidens duology

Within the first few hours of finishing this book, I probably changed my rating at least five times. While I got through Gravemaidens very quickly and truly did enjoy certain elements, there were other aspects I found incredibly frustrating that caused me to set down my Kindle and roll my eyes in desperation. My actual rating is probably closer to 2.75 stars, but I’m rounding up to 3 stars for Goodread’s sake.

(Light spoilers ahead. I’ve also included a content warning at the end of the review, and I’d recommend checking it out before picking up this book. Some scenes might be a bit difficult to get through if you don’t see them coming.)

If you’re looking for an easy YA read with a unique setting and high stakes, I would recommend this book. To save her sister from being sacrificed, Kammani must heal the king in a palace where her allies are few. She soon discovers her healer father was killed on his way to the castle, and now it seems this murderer wants Kammani dead, too. On top of that, she must confront her mixed feelings for Dagan, the farmer’s son, and decide what kind of future she truly wants for herself. There’s a lot to unpack, which made each chapter feel fast-paced with enough action and intrigue to keep the pages turning.

The downside to this mystery? It’s very, very obvious from early on in the book who would benefit most from the king’s death, and therefore who would want to kill Kammani and her father to prevent them from healing him. Yet, Kammani spends the entire book on a wild-goose chase trying to catch the wrong person, taking forever to realize the king is being poisoned and convincing herself she’s after the true culprit even when the clues show the opposite. It was so frustrating I wanted to scream. I know this is YA, but I think even the youngest YA reader could easily recognize the true antagonist, especially because by the end of the book this person is very much a cardboard cutout of a SuperEvil™ villain. I think the only thing that kept me going was waiting for Kammani to finally realize the truth.

When I started this review I planned to discuss how unlikable I found Kammani as a character; however, looking back on it I now realize she was much more bearable by the end of the book and Kelly Coon implemented a a solid character arc for her. Kammani isn’t my favorite YA heroine by any means, as at times she is downright mean and petty to her younger sister and love interest, but over the course of the book she transforms from a stubborn individualist to someone who realizes it’s okay to rely on others for support. I still think Dagan deserves better, but I’m interested to see where their relationship goes in book two.

Speaking of book two, I’m actually surprised this is a duology, as I thought Gravemaidens would do perfectly well as a standalone. Yes, the villain still hasn’t been taken down by the end of the book, but everything else felt pretty wrapped up. I anticipate book two will include defeating the bad guy, along with some more Kammani/Dagan romance and Nasu being paired with someone in the group – I’m guessing Iltani or Nanaea.

The two final issues I had with this book: I didn’t like the girl hate and jealousy that popped up from time to time, or that the villainous or cruel characters were described as “ugly” while all of the protagonists were conventionally attractive. Lastly, misogyny is an intrinsic part of this world, so if you’re looking for an escapist book where women aren’t oppressed you should avoid this one.

Although Gravemaidens wasn’t my favorite read of 2020, I’m still planning to pick up book two in the near future. It looks like the release date for Warmaidens was pushed out a couple of months, but I was approved for it on Netgalley so please be on the lookout for my review!

CW: violence/gore; graphic depiction of childbirth; infant death/stillbirth; death in childbirth; parent death; sibling death; child death; on-page sexual assault (stripping of clothes/groping/forced kissing); mention of rape; mention of suicide and mental illness; alcoholism. Let me know if I’m missing anything.

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