book review: grace and fury by tracy banghart

Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 320 pp.
Published July 31, 2018

DISCLAIMER: I received a free eARC of this title from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration. This did not inform or influence my opinion in any way.

In a world where women have no rights, sisters Serina and Nomi Tessaro face two very different fates: one in the palace, the other in prison.

Serina has been groomed her whole life to become a Grace--someone to stand by the heir to the throne as a shining, subjugated example of the perfect woman. But when her headstrong and rebellious younger sister, Nomi, catches the heir's eye, it's Serina who takes the fall for the dangerous secret that Nomi has been hiding.

Now trapped in a life she never wanted, Nomi has only one way to save Serina: surrender to her role as a Grace until she can use her position to release her sister. This is easier said than done. A traitor walks the halls of the palace, and deception lurks in every corner. But Serina is running out of time, imprisoned on an island where she must fight to the death to survive and one wrong move could cost her everything.

Grace and Fury puts a lot of intriguing ideas into play without managing to capitalize on them. Combining a dystopian fantasy with historical fiction, it envisions a Venetian-inspired civilization where women are forbidden to read or write and have very few opportunities presented to them. Eschewing a life of factory work, Serina has spend her entire childhood training to become, in essence, a concubine for the future leader of their kingdom. If she is one of the few girls selected then she can also bring her sister, Nomi, along into a life of relative luxury. However, the two sisters spend hardly any time together in the capital before an unexpected series of events results in Nomi's selection as a Grace and Serina's banishment to an island prison after getting caught with a book. As a result, the sisterly bond meant to drive much of the book's conflict has little time to develop before getting torn apart.

Without this foundation to rely on, both Nomi and Serina's alternating perspectives quickly fall back into a repetitive pattern of thought. Action and intrigue run throughout the palace and prison alike, yet this key relationship between the two protagonists depends almost entirely on a generic loop of reminiscing and regret. Through being told, rather than shown, the bond between Nomi and Serena their shared history lacks gravitas and fails to inspire much empathy.

The prose also borders on bland. Plainly structured sentences and paragraphs don't necessarily lack direction, yet they do severely want for momentum. As both girls continue struggling to resolve their circumstances without satisfaction this inhibits the reader's ability to immerse herself in the world at hand. Rather than seem vibrant and real everything feels an arm's-length away.

Grace and Fury also incorporates its progressive, feminist themes awkwardly. Several of the notions bandied about by the young women are more than rebellious: they're downright anachronistic in their foundations and sophistication, incredibly well-developed for teenagers presumably questioning the justice of their reality in-depth for the first time. Reading a more modern twist on medieval or Renaissance-inspired stories is quite welcome, although certain concepts require a finer touch than Banghart applies here.

Tangential to this issue is the development of female friendships in both storylines. While the various prisoners isolated alongside Serina form different alliances and relationships, there's a startling lack of interpersonal politics among the women in the palace's harem. The Graces display a range of attitudes over their vocation, from grudging resignation to pride and delight. It was disappointing that all of these differing approaches weren't shown to create subtle divisions within the household.

Although the concepts at play behind Grace and Fury—the melding of historical fiction and dystopian fantasy, a strong female cast, and the relationship between two sisters—immediately capture one's attention, the execution of those ideas fails in several key areas. Additionally, this is only the first in planned duology—a publishing schedule not easily apparent from Goodreads or NetGalley. The slow pace makes more sense when the story is split between two books, however this is ultimately a tale that can be told in one. Neither the characters nor the overall plot have really compelled me to continue, so the ending to this one will most likely remain a mystery.


No comments:

Post a Comment