Title: Grace & Fury
Author: Tracy Bangheart
Publisher: Hachette Children’s Group
Pub date: July 26th 2018
‘In a world where women have no rights, sisters Serina and Nomi face two very different fates: one in the palace, the other on an island prison where women must fight to survive.
Serina has spent her whole life preparing to become a Grace – selected to stand by the heir to the throne as a shining example of the perfect woman.
But her headstrong and rebellious younger sister has a dangerous secret, and one wrong move could cost both sisters everything.
Can Serina fight? And will Nomi win?
I intended to sit down and start Grace & Fury… and several hours later hadn’t put it down, but had finished the whole book. I loved this novel and greatly look forward to the next instalment in the series.
The story is told from the points of view of sisters Serina and Nomi, one seemingly content with the expectations of her, and the other quite openly unhappy about her ‘place’ in the world. The sisters live in a society where there is a limited number of options for women in terms of their futures, for they are not permitted even to learn to read and write, such is the power that the male leaders wish to maintain over them. This frustrates Nomi, while Serina is more cautious and has spent her life trying not to step outside the rules that have been set for her, in the hope that she will one day be able to make life ‘better’ for both of them – but it is her variety of ‘better’ that she believes is the best path, whether her sister likes it or not.
The narrative alternates between point of view chapters from each character, and while I often find myself drawn to one character over another when reading books written in this fashion, I have to say that I grew to love both points of view and wasn’t at all tempted to skip a chapter to get to a different part of the story. Each of the girls goes through a transformation, with Serina’s perhaps slightly more compelling, though the far more violent of the two, while they struggle with the worlds that they find themselves in.
There are some elements that have been seen before in YA novels, such as the use of the two brothers as devices to move along one path of the story, and some slightly stereotypical instances of romance, but, on the whole, the plot is sound and engaging. The narrative is focused on the exploration of women’s place within society, with some plain reminders that it was not so long ago that our female ancestors found themselves in similar situations to the women in the society of Grace & Fury. With this in mind, there are several effective instances of women supporting other women in the story, but there are also moments when I found myself disappointed that it seemed a female character was being ‘rescued’ by a man, given the overall tone of the novel. However, the story does belong to the women in the narrative, who share the most interesting facets of themselves only with each other (with one or two exceptions), knowing full well that they cannot be themselves around any man – or any woman too eager to please the ruling class.
Grace & Fury is a well-crafted novel with rich worldbuilding and compelling characters. Serina and Nomi are obviously at its heart – and they have heart, but they are also fragile, fallible and frightened while simultaneously being brave, daring and rebellious. A pleasure to read.
I received an ARC of Grace & Fury from NetGalley and the publisher.
The queen you were meant to be
The land you were meant to save
The throne you were meant to claim
Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. Ten years later, Theo has learned to survive under the relentless abuse of the Kaiser and his court as the ridiculed Ash Princess.
When the Kaiser forces her to execute her last hope of rescue, Theo can’t ignore her feelings and memories any longer. She vows revenge, throwing herself into a plot for freedom with the help of a group of magically gifted and volatile rebels.
Forced to make impossible choices and unable to trust even those who are on her side, Theo will have to decide how far she’s willing to go to save her people and how much of herself she’s willing to sacrifice to become Queen.
Today is my stop on the Ash Princess UK blog tour and I’m here to explore the concept of the YA heroine and how the fantastic lead (and other female characters) of this brilliant novel takes the common tropes and turns them on their heads. The following contains broad references to the events in the narrative, but no specific spoilers.
Whether we like it or not, the stereotypical YA heroine is usually considered so because she is ‘different’ to all the other girls and willing to pick up a sword or wield her magic in violent and fantastical ways that manage to earn her the respect of the men in her narrative – and often manage to earn her our respect too. It is not uncommon for these female characters to have physical strengths and powers that make them stand out from other women to an almost unbelievable extent, their focus often being considered the equal of the men in the novel.
Here’s where Ash Princess and its female cast are different in refreshing and engaging ways. Is Theodosia a rebel? Yes. Is she a heroine? I think it’s important at this point to consider the difference between a character being malicious and them doing unpleasant things in terms of whether or not a reader is apt to consider them to be a hero. To be truly malicious, Theodosia would surely have to have no discernible conscience or negative reaction to the necessary steps that she takes in an effort to put her people on the path to freedom. And she does have a conscience. There are several points in the narrative where she could ensure that she and only she is safe, or where she could give in to escape her life of misery. But Theodosia has more pressing matters to attend to. She sees the bigger picture. She’s learnt and studied and considered her situation as she’s grown up at the feet of her oppressors and she uses the most important weapon at her disposal: her mind.
It’s clear that Theo has had to learn fast to survive, first analysing the behaviour of those around her and then creating the character of ‘Thora’, taking the name she’s been given to strip her of her identity and building a persona that supplies the right responses for the right person to enable her to survive, to the extent that she often feels that the Thora character has taken over. She manages to deceive a wide range of people with this act, tailoring her behaviour so that they don’t believe her to be truly capable of what she must do. To some, her actions may seem callous, particularly as regards Cress, who considers her her ‘heart’s sister’, but Theodosia has endured years of beatings and humiliation at the hands of people just like her. This is not to say that she never seems to regret her actions, for she does. She knows the difference between right and wrong, but also that some actions are born of necessity. Theodosia has more than her own feelings to consider; she has the survival of an entire people on her shoulders.
Theodosia’s power comes from her ability to manipulate others and make sacrifices in the hope of one day being able to help many more people than solely herself and those she knows personally and holds dear. Given how she reacts to some of her actions, it could easily be argued that she is not, at heart, a manipulative soul, but that her situation not only as rebel, but as rebel leader, demands it of her. Just because she doesn’t wield a physical weapon or use what magic she could to flatten her enemies, it doesn’t make her any less of a heroine. Hers is a more artful and subtle form of rebellion: one that stands to cost her much more than many other YA heroines suffer for their bold demonstrations of unstoppable power.
The rest of Ash Princess’s female cast all break the mould in similar fashions to Theodosia herself. I could write for several thousand words about the women in this novel, but I’ll try to contain myself to this paragraph. The majority of named female characters in Ash Princess carry out small acts of rebellion, some with far-reaching consequences. From the Kaiserin’s warnings to Theodosia, to young Cress’s misguided attempt to make her new friend look ready for battle, each of these women is a cleverly crafted blend of heart and intellect that makes them increasingly unique in the YA market. They are not driven solely by their feelings and they are not written to have ‘admired’ male characteristics in female form, but they are human and have learned how to live in a world where none of them has exactly what they would wish.
If you haven’t ordered yourself a copy of Ash Princess yet, I urge you to get your hands on a copy of this nuanced YA read as soon as possible. If you’re looking for a rebel (and a heroine) with a set of morals they’re willing to test, a sharp intellect and a heart of fire, Theodosia is the one whose story you’re going to want to watch out for over the next few years.
Ash Princess is released in the UK on the 14th June 2018, published by Pan Macmillan.