Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon – Review

The start of a fierce fantasy duology about three maidens who are chosen for their land’s greatest honor…and one girl determined to save her sister from the grave. 

In the walled city-state of Alu, Kammani wants nothing more than to become the accomplished healer her father used to be before her family was cast out of their privileged life in shame. 

When Alu’s ruler falls deathly ill, Kammani’s beautiful little sister, Nanaea, is chosen as one of three sacred maidens to join him in the afterlife. It’s an honor. A tradition. And Nanaea believes it is her chance to live an even grander life than the one that was stolen from her. 

But Kammani sees the selection for what it really is—a death sentence.

Desperate to save her sister, Kammani schemes her way into the palace to heal the ruler. There she discovers more danger lurking in the sand-stone corridors than she could have ever imagined and that her own life—and heart—are at stake. But Kammani will stop at nothing to dig up the palace’s buried secrets even if it means sacrificing everything…including herself.

Click cover to buy

Thanks so much to NetGalley for this eARC! I was first caught by this gorgeous cover, and then pushed over the edge by the premise. It was everything I wanted it to be and more. The world that Kelly created was so rich and intricate, and the power system that was used was so effective. Our protagonist is Kammani, a girl ahead of her time. Her father is a healer who, because of a failure to save the life of a prominent person, was cast out of the privileged life he and his family had led into the life of a pauper. In spite of this, he continued to use his gifts for the greater good until his wife was taken from him.

This one act set things into motion for many of these characters. Kammani’s father fell into despair; soothing his grief with drink. Kammani, who had studied for years under her father, devoted her life to saving others. Kammani’s sister, Nanaea, was the closest one to their mother, and as such began to harbor a secret wish to find her again. Their brother, Kasha, was taken from his mother’s arms to replace the life that their father had failed to save, and so he was bound to be a servant in the palace for the rest of his days. Life went on, the way it inevitably will, until it was announced that the country’s leader (called a Lugal) was dying.

The Lugal must have three Sacred Maidens to follow him into the afterlife, and being chosen is supposed to be the ultimate honor. When Nanaea is chosen, Kammani is horrified. She knows what this really means. Her sister’s life will be ended far sooner than it should be, and she knows that she has to do something to stop it. What follows is an inspiring tale of the bonds of family and the absolute power of women. A mystery unfolds itself before Kammani, and even at the risk of a budding love with her childhood friend Dagan in addition to the threat that her sister might never forgive her, Kammani defies all the odds to get to the bottom of it.

Kammani is a character far beyond her time and her years. She is educated in a way that no other girl we meet in this world is; and even better than some of the men as well, as is demonstrated by a pair of the palace’s guards. She has incredible inner strength. She stares death in the face and demands it to bend to her will. She is a hero with the most tortured soul, and it prevents her from seeing how amazing she truly is. I loved her, and I loved experiencing her tale. I am so excited that this is going to be a series, because I can’t wait to see what she will do now that her potential has been realized.

All in all, this was a captivating novel that I could not put down. I’m head over heels for the lore; the Sacred Maidens, the Boatman, all of it. The cast of characters were so well rounded and fleshed out, and I fell in love with all of them, including the villains. I think Kelly Coon is going to do amazing things in the book community! She has made one hell of a debut!

5/5 stars

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