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Strange Grace

Review

Strange Grace

In the village of Three Graces, no one ever falls ill. The seasons are gentle: just enough rain for crops to prosper, no frost the land can't bear. Childbirth isn't an easy thing, but the suffering is as minimal as possible, and mother and child alike are sure to emerge unscathed. The fields flourish, there are no plagues. It's a small village, but a content one.

But the fortune of Three Graces did not happen by luck or coincidence.

"Tessa Gratton knows how to wield sentences, and they shine here. STRANGE GRACE is a dark, melodic, passionate queer fairytale."

The story has been passed down from generation to generation. Once, there were three Grace witches. The youngest one fell in love with the devil in the forest, and gave him her heart. Now, the village is protected from any of the harm that befalls the outside world. But in exchange, every seven years, one boy, the best boy, must run into the Devil's Forest willing to die to protect his people. There have been many saints. Four have survived, and those that do leave a part of themselves in the forest.

Now, though, the Slaughter Moon has risen four years early. The village is ready to throw the saint in immediately, but will the pact hold? Hasn't it already been broken? Who really knows what the Devil wants, and if the forest can be trusted?

The story centers on three young people. Rhun, the best boy in the village, full of kindness, strength and love. Arthur, moody and righteously angry, and big-hearted in his own way. His mother raised him as a girl in his early years, in an attempt to protect him from the call of the forest, and he navigates reclaiming his gender, defining it for himself. Mairwen, descended from the Grace witches, and a Grace witch herself. The three are best friends, and as the narrative persists, something more. They love each other with a ferocious consistency, which proves to be very important to the story.

I love each and every one of these characters. I love reading a witch claim her power. I love reading a soft brown boy be helplessly in love with both of his best friends, while also being stronger than almost all of his village. I love reading a boy recognize the limitations of puritanical constructions gender and choose to defy them. For way, way too long, I've ached for a story that's at once rich in mystery and earthy magic, while also being queer. While some love triangles are awesome, I often find them exhausting, and end up thinking, "why can't they all just love each other instead? Why can't this be full of cute polyamory and authentic feelings instead of jealousy and hate?" and oh, my goodness, does Tessa Gratton deliver on both counts.

Tessa Gratton knows how to wield sentences, and they shine here. STRANGE GRACE is a dark, melodic, passionate queer fairytale. With threads of The Ones Who Walked Away From Omelas and shades of horror and blood magic, it's an intricate, clever story. It's about love, friendship and sacrifice. It's about memory, truth, legend and choice. Ultimately, it's about found family: finding people who see your power and your messiness and your clumsy learning love, and choose to love every part of you. Atmospheric and lovely, STRANGE GRACE is a perfect read for the autumn, and year-round.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on September 19, 2018

Strange Grace
by Tessa Gratton