Book review: Strange Grace, by Tessa Gratton

Gratton, Tessa. Strange Grace. Margaret K. McElderry Books. 2018. $18.99. 400p. HC. 9781534402089.

“I think being a witch means making choices, too. If you can see between day and night, if you see shades between good and evil, then you can act on what others can’t, or refuse to, see. Change things.”

“I’ve always admired that you didn’t fit it anywhere, so you made your own place.”

“You do too, Haf. Nobody says who you are but you. It doesn’t matter who anybody wants us to be. We choose. We decide.”

Long ago, a village made a bargain with the Devil in exchange for safety and protection. When the Slaughter moon rises, the village exchanges their best boy for seven years of uninterrupted protection from bad harvests, sickness, injury, and premature death. The Slaughter moon is prepared for and expected: a saint will enter the forest, and occasionally, he will come out — surviving, but leaving the valley haunted by his experience. Rhun, the expected saint for the next Slaughter moon welcomes his fate, and takes great pride in giving up his future to his valley. Until the next Slaughter moon, Rhun is content to spend his time with his closest friends and strongest loves, Mairwen and Arthur. Arthur, the village outcast, is all hard angles and anger; Mairwen, the local Grace witch, is all shining strangeness and gentle but fierce warmth.

But when the Slaughter moon rises early, the easiness with which the valley has existed is gone. As the town prepares for another sacrifice, Mairwen feels the pull of the Devil in the woods, while Arthur becomes increasingly resentful of the bargain. Arthur, Mairwen, and Rhun are all strong-willed protagonists which often manifests in very different but equally compelling ways.

In this atmospheric fantasy full of strangeness and grotesque wildness, Gratton does an excellent job of creating unique characters who will stick in your mind long after you’ve closed the book. Lush and lyrical, Gratton’s writing shines throughout the tale, where dread follows the reader as they attempt to unwind the mysteries and secrets of the forest. Gratton introduces us to unique queer characters engaged in a loving polyamorous relationship. This is a wonderful dark fairy tale about in-betweenness, and the importance of living your own truth. Recommended for high school-age readers (9-12) who are looking for a mature YA fantasy.

Rachel Newlin
Schaumburg Township District Library


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