Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon
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.
Gravemaidens was such a pleasant surprise for me. I loved the cover and knew it sounded good, but I still worried a bit.
I think what thrilled me the most about this book is that there was a big mystery. The world building was easy to follow and I had no problems remembering the characters.
I’m going to start with the warnings because there are some heavy topics in this book. I’m sorry if I miss any. Death, murder, torture/abuse/beatings/whippings, mention of suicide, young girls being sacrificed to go with a much older man to the afterlife, stillbirth, verbal sexual assault, stripping of clothes and groping, child/baby death, taking of a child, alcoholism, poverty and horrible treatment by status, mention of mental illness, girls expected to marry (16-17 years old) and just have children.
Kammani wants nothing more than to be the healer her father is (was). She started following and helping him at a young age and she’s good. But he’s the best. Unfortunately, he couldn’t save the ruler’s son. In return, they were stripped of their status and the ruler took him son, Kasha, to live and serve at his palace. Kammani’s father tried to heal when he could to keep food on their table. He was gone one night when her mother went into labor for the fourth time. Kammani was young and did everything she could. Her mother and child passed. Kammani’s father had so much grief that he started drowning his sorrows in alcohol.
Kammani became the mother, healer when he couldn’t go it, and the money maker. They were still hungry and barely getting by. Her best male friend wants to marry her and he is above them in status. Kammani has feelings for him, but she wants to be a healer, not a stay at home mother.
Whenever the Lugal is ill, three maidens were chosen to live in the palace. They have festivals and spoil them. But if the Lugal dies, then all three girls are sacrificed to go with him to the afterlife where they will basically be his wives. These girls are 15-16. Most chosen are high status and beautiful. Kammani is one of the few who think this is not something to celebrate. It’s death, not an honor as it’s portrayed. She’s never really worried about her sister, Nanea. Even though she’s gorgeous, their family was shamed.
Three young women were going to die. They’d step onto the Boatman’s skiff and shove off toward the Netherworld.
When the new girls were chosen, things seem different. Simti was chosen first and she was poor. The second was Huna, a wealthy girl. And the third was Nanea. While Nanea was thrilled, Kammani decided she must do anything she could to save her sister. Using Kasha and Dagan, the healer was to be sent to the palace to try to save the Lugal. Shortly after, they summoned Kammani. When she gets there, she finds out that her father never made it. She was told he died and assumed he was killed for not healing the Lugal. While trying to figure out what was wrong with the Lugal, Kammani finds out secrets about her father and the Lugal’s family. The Lugal’s daughter, Nin Arwia, is the last heir. She wants to be friends with Kammani, but she has the most to gain if her father dies.
Because I can’t talk about the plot much without spoilers, I want to mention a couple other characters that I ended up loving. There is one palace guard, Nasu, that was honorable. He was healed by Kammani’s father years before and felt he owed a debt. The other is Iltani. She is Kammani’s best friend and she might be my favorite character in the book. She is so snarky and funny. The kind of person who will do anything for the people she loves and isn’t worried if it’s dangerous.
She smiled devilishly. “I was hoping I’d have something illegal to do.” I snickered. Of course she did.
The ending was interesting and I’m very curious to see where the story goes in book two. I stayed up to read the last three hours of the book last night because I had to know what would happen.
I gave this book 4 1/2 stars, rounded up to 5 stars. All quotes taken from arc and may change with the finished copy. Thank you to the publisher and netgalley for my review copy.
Have you read Gravemaidens yet? I know it’s getting very mixed reviews, but what did you think? Is it on your TBR?