One of the things I love about YA fantasy is that it's easy to find female protagonists. One of the things I dislike about it is a lot of it feels repetitive (to me, not necessarily to the main YA audience). So, while I was intrigued by the synopsis for Grace and Fury, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. Turns out going in without many expectations means I was pleasantly surprised!
The story follows Nomi and Serina, a pair of sisters who live in Viridia, an Italian-inspired fantasy world where women are oppressed. Serina trains to be a Grace, a woman who could potentially be chosen by the Superior (the leader of the country) or his son, the heir, as a "companion." Nomi, on the other hand, is more of a rebel. Too bad the heir picks Nomi instead of Serina, leaving Nomi in a role she never wanted and Serina to get sent off to an island called Mount Ruin, a women's prison where they fight to the death for the "privilege" of food. (That's not a spoiler because it's right in the synopsis.)
I'm a sucker for stories about sisters, and I think that was a big part of the appeal for me. If it hadn't been about sisters, I'm not sure the story line would've kept me interested because it is a little simple. It ends with a bang, but be aware that this is the first half of a duology, so it ends on a cliffhanger.
As far as characters go, I did like Nomi and Serina and the relationship between them. I started out liking Nomi more and ended up liking Serina more. Nomi makes some bad decisions as a Grace. They can be explained by her unfamiliarity with palace life, but I wish Banghart would've noted that more. I also really loved that even though they get separated, or perhaps because they get separated, they learn more about each other. I hope Banghart continues building that relationship in the second book
The setting is somewhat interesting, although it could've been more detailed. My favorite thing is that it's very pro-women. In Viridia, women aren't allowed to learn how to read or choose their jobs or husbands or anything, and Banghart kind of hits you over the head with the necessity of women fighting, one way or another, for their independence. I was fine with it, but some readers might find it too heavy-handed. Part of Serina's journey is learning to trust other women instead of fighting against them, which is a great lesson for a YA book.
One thing that disappointed me is that it's so heteronormative. Serina ends up on an island full of women, a situation which opens her up to find friends and mentors, and yet her strongest relationship is with a male guard. In Nomi's story line, there are two brothers (of course), both of whom she's attracted to in some way. I just thought it was a missed opportunity to add some diversity, especially in a story about an oppressive world.
Some content warnings: there are scenes of attempted sexual violence, and there's a horse race that ends in the deaths of both men and horses (I don't know why that gets to me, but it does).
While there are aspects that could've been improved upon, I very much enjoyed this read and am looking forward to the next book. I'd recommend Grace and Fury to anyone interested in fantasy with a feminist angle.
Thanks to Little Brown Books, Tracy Banghart, and NetGalley for the e-copy.
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