Novel: Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton | Goodreads
Release Date: September 18, 2018
Publisher: Margaret McElderberry Books
Once, a witch made a pact with a devil. The legend says they loved each other, but can the story be trusted at all? Find out in this lush, atmospheric fantasy novel that entwines love, lies, and sacrifice.
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.
The immediate atmosphere of this book is haunting. Recently, I’ve been obsessed with anything folk-related — villages, and odd traditions, and tightly knit families. There’s something shiveringly delicious about those set-ups (and it’s just about perfect to ease into Halloween.)
Okay, so the book focuses on an isolated village where nothing bad ever happens. In order to keep the peace, one “saint” runs into the forest every few years to keep the devil in the forest happy; he may or may not stumble out alive, but takes honor in his duty of being “the best,” or at least noble.
Because it’s such a foundation of the village, it’s entwined even into the language. The writing has this otherworldly, odd quality that fits perfectly with its flavor. Each of the main characters is slightly off in some way.
Each of the three main characters — Mairwyn, Arthur, and Rhun — were dependent on each other, although there were still some areas of resentment or jealousy or weird, sibling-esque rivalry. But they were also all in love with each other and had a lot of affection/need for each other. Almost polyamorously.
When the Slaughter Moon rose before the cycle finished, the town was shaken. Why did it happen? Would sending another saint fix everything? And so that means Rhun, the golden boy. But his lover, Mairwyn, and his counterpart, Arthur, have their problems with that.
On the night of, despite the prayers and everything, three of them end up in the forest. And everything changes.
The woods themselves are a blur. They spit the “saints” back immediately, after some italics and dark images. The format of it — the italics — was disruptive. I almost wish that the headings or something had just been set it apart, because otherwise it was hard to read. The satanic imagery is both the strength of the book and where it gets really pretty creepy. It was dreamlike, but also a little disjointed.
Although I wasn’t expecting the cut forward to post-forest to work so well, because we were so curious about what happened inside, it did. Suddenly, the connections between the characters were magnified and convoluted. They all had such gray areas between them.
Mairwyn was a witch, calculated but also full of fear and emotion. She was desperately in love with Rhun, and they’d been connected for a long time. There was history between them, one that the entire village knew as truth. (I love books like this, by the way; I love when a narrative isn’t afraid to have a pre-existing relationship.) The only problem is that Rhun lusts after Arthur. And Arthur wants Rhun’s sainthood, which isn’t a metaphor at all.
And then there’s the devil.
I loved that each narrator was completely unreliable, with motivations that were alarming. It makes it easy to be surprised, although the somewhat wobbly nature of the writing itself means that some of the plot twists don’t quite have the impact that they could.
The book has a lot of discussion going on, elegantly woven into the fantasy. The characters’ romantic involvement is so messy that they’re really all over the place in terms of their sexual and gendered identities. For that reason, I could see a lot of people loving the ideals it brings to light.
The plot itself was enormously engaging for the first half of the book, and then it kind of dragged. After they’re back, it takes a little while to get going again because it’s a bit all over the place. The three of them are doubting themselves, and the fogged memories from the night. What happened? What’s the myth that they’ve been buying into for so long — that may or may not be true?
Towards the end, it starts clearing up.
The action is intense, and goes on for awhile. The scenes in the forest are compelling and insane, and the writing is beautiful. It all feels like something out of a dream (or a nightmare.)
Okay, so my review is a little jumbled because Strange Grace is a little jumbled. That being said, although it’s all over the place, I really loved it. The atmosphere is creepy and deliciously dark. It’s not afraid to veer into some twisted images and plot points, while grounding it in alluring characters who will win you over. It’s a chilling mystery that will keep you guessing, often, although it can be hard to follow. I’d recommend it, but keep in mind that it isn’t for all readers.