My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Length: 320 pages
Release date: 26 July 2018
In a world where women have no rights, sisters Serina and Nomi Tessaro face two very different fates: one in the palace, the other in prison.
Serina has been groomed her whole life to become a Grace – someone to stand by the heir to the throne as a shining, subjugated example of the perfect woman. But when her headstrong and rebellious younger sister, Nomi, catches the heir’s eye, it’s Serina who takes the fall for the dangerous secret that Nomi has been hiding.
Now trapped in a life she never wanted, Nomi has only one way to save Serina: surrender to her role as a Grace until she can use her position to release her sister. This is easier said than done. A traitor walks the halls of the palace, and deception lurks in every corner. But Serina is running out of time, imprisoned on an island where she must fight to the death to survive and one wrong move could cost her everything.
“Listen, learn, and remember this one thing: Every rule you were ever taught in Viridia–about being quiet, modest, humble, weak–won’t help you here. Here, strength is the only currency.”
What would The Handmaid’s Tale look like set in the world of Red Queen? Whether you care to ask that question or not, Grace and Fury is here with an answer. Being ambivalent at best about Red Queen, I’d have been skeptical if you told me that a solid mashup of it and The Handmaid’s Tale was possible. But that’s exactly what Tracy Banghart has written.
Welcome to Viridia, a grim nation loosely inspired by Italy where women are forbidden to read, have short hair or disobey whatever orders a man gives them. Their only roles in life are as housewife, domestic servant or factory worker–that is except for a lucky, beautiful few, who are selected to be the Superior’s Graces, glorified concubines epitomising feminine virtue. Tracy Banghart’s world is terrifying, but if you come here expecting a 1984, you will be disappointed: Banghart doesn’t spend one second longer than necessary wallowing in fictional oppression. Instead, in ever-optimistic YA tradition, her characters fight back. Change is in the air.
Following in the well-trodden footsteps of the genre, Grace and Fury chronicles the first sparks of a revolution, social and political. Hopefully, the author will stick to her plan of two books, done and dusted. If Grace and Fury doesn’t succumb to the infamous series expansions that result in one book spiralling into four and a month’s wait spiralling into several years’, it has the potential to be a fantastic duology.
This debut travels at a breakneck pace, covering only the most important events. Characters go from meeting to smooching to plotting coups d’état in what feels like moments. In places the book reads more like the outline of a novel than the actual finished product, but at a time when some popular YA authors who shall go unnamed publish first drafts that are three parts fluff to one part content, you couldn’t be faulted for appreciating Banghart’s bare-bones approach. Either way, Grace and Fury demands very little time to finish for a story of its calibre, making it a must-read for feminist fantasy fans.
Though not particularly groundbreaking leads, Serina and Nomi are certainly sympathetic, although considering the way they’re treated, it would be nearly impossible to find a Viridian woman unworthy of some sort of support. Both sisters have romances that can feel shoehorned in, but are handled decently. Looking at it from the lens that these women have been caged their whole lives, it makes sense for them to take what small happiness they can find.
Tracy Banghart’s website mentions that she “believes in cultivating worlds where women support rather than compete with one another, and first kisses happen en route to new adventures, instead of in lieu of them.” Grace and Fury does justice to these goals; its most compelling moments are those when Serina and Nomi forge alliances with women instead of hating them as they were all brought up to do. In an especially touching scene, one supporting character describes the abuse she faced from a father who discovered her relationship with a girlfriend.
Ultimately, Grace and Fury is a tale of empowerment. As in most tales of empowerment, it doesn’t take an oracle to predict that the subjugated group eventually unites in solidarity to throw off the yoke of their oppressors. With that in mind, the fact that this book’s late-stage plot twists are rather obvious shouldn’t be a reason not to read it, because those twists aren’t the most important part of the story. That would be the fierce sisters, the relationships they forge with other girls, and the power they realise they have together. If you’re in the mood for hopeful and inspiring, Grace and Fury is a fine shout.
*Thanks to Hachette Children’s Group and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*