Strange Grace: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Strange Grace by Tessa GrattonA long time ago a witch fell in love with a devil.

The witch gave the devil her heart and a pact was made in the town of Three Graces. Now, nothing is bad and nothing changes. The crops never fail and no one dies before their time. Everything is good.

Every seven year the town’s best boy is anointed as a saint to run through the forest. On the Slaughter Moon he is sent into the forest from sundown to sunrise with nothing but his wits to protect him. His sacrifice renews the bargain every seven years.

That’s the story Three Graces has always known and always told. But can the story be trusted at all? When the bargain needs to be renewed early, Arthur, Mairwen, and Rhun aren’t so sure.

An angry boy, a witch, and a saint run into the forest together. They’ll need each other if they hope to change the shape of the bargain and Three Graces before the next Slaughter Moon in Strange Grace (2018) by Tessa Gratton.

Gratton’s latest standalone novel is a thoughtful commentary on fear, sacrifice, and toxic masculinity wrapped in a page-turning story set in an eerie world where magic has the power to change everything and the forest has teeth.

As the daughter of the current witch Mairwen’s implicit trust in the bargain, in the devil, and in the forest itself is sorely tested as she realizes all is not as it seems in Three Graces.

Rhun has always known he would be the next saint. There is no denying he is the town’s best boy and he is willing to make the sacrifice. But as he prepares to lose everything, Rhun wonders if anyone in town truly knows him.

Arthur has grown up in the shadow of the Slaughter Moon and his mother’s fear of it. Raised as a girl for his first seven years, Arthur is desperate now to prove himself as strong, as good, and as masculine as the other candidates. But even Arthur knows that he is more angry than anything else.

As they prepare for the premature Slaughter Moon, Mairwen, Arthur, and Rhun are haunted by the decisions that have left their lives hopelessly intertwined. Drawn together as much as they are driven apart, none of them know how they can find an ending together when it it is unlikely they’ll all survive the night of the saint’s run.

Strange Grace is a tense blend of fantasy and suspense. Recommended for readers who enjoy their fantasy tinged with horror and old secrets and anyone seeking a polyamorous romance when the chemistry between the characters is undeniable.

Possible Pairings: Damsel by Elana K. Arnold, The Wicked Deep by Shea Earnshaw, Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton, The Wren Hunt by Mary Watson, Last Things by Jacqueline West

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You stop fearing the Devil when you’re holding his hand.”

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve TucholkeViolet’s grandmother, Freddie, told her to be careful of the Devil countless times. But with Freddie dead and her parents indefinitely traveling through Europe, it’s hard enough just to survive without thinking about the Devil. There are bills to pay, a twin brother to fight with and a neighbor to try and avoid.

In need of money, Violet takes a gamble and tries to rent out her family’s guesthouse. She doesn’t expect anyone to come. No one in the small town of Echo thinks much of Violet and her formerly-rich family.

Then River West drives into town all sly smiles and lazy grace to rent the guesthouse and turn the whole town upside down.

The closer Violet gets to River the more she finds herself drawn to him. But as she learns more about River and her own family’s past the more obvious it becomes that Freddie was right all along. It’s easy to lose sight of the Devil when he’s the one giving you a crooked smile like no one else in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (2013) by April Genevieve Tucholke.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is Tucholke’s first novel. It is also the first of a duet. (The second volume Between the Spark and the Burn will be published in 2014.)

Violet is a great narrator with a cadence reminiscent of lazy days telling stories in a summer haze. Low level swear words (there are a lot of things that Violet has damn strong feelings about) and references to classic movies and books (like Casablanca and Hawthorne’s short stories) are woven seamlessly into the story to give the whole novel an otherworldly air.

This story is also strangely devoid of theology or other non-secular discussions for a book that focuses so heavily on Devil mythology and the idea of evil. In some ways that is a good thing as it makes the book approachable for a wider audience. On the other hand, even for someone who is not religious, it felt strange to see so much concern for the Devil but no mention of God except to say that there must be some kind of god if there is, in fact, some kind of devil.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is an enjoyable book for readers who don’t mind skipping over small details that don’t quite make sense. Because it is often the little things that make this story frustrating. Where, exactly, is the town of Echo located? Why does Violet not question her strange and instant attraction to the stranger in her guest house? How many times can two teenagers realistically sleep in the same bed (naked) with nothing happening?

And, of course, the biggest question: How many chances for forgiveness does a sociopath really deserve?

Which leads to the biggest problem in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Almost none of the characters are likable. While Violet is a sympathetic (if naive) narrator, none of the secondary characters are likable. Violet’s twin brother is a brute, her neighbor friend is vapid to the point of meanness. River, the supposed male lead, is a villain in every sense of the word: he kills people, hurts people and creates mayhem everywhere he goes not because he has no choice but because he can. Because he enjoys it.

While there is always room for anti-heroes in literature–especially ones that readers will want to root for–it is impossible to find any redeeming qualities in River. He is a sociopath. The only times he is angry or shows regret about his actions is when he is caught in the act. Otherwise it’s all in good fun. River is meant to be sympathetic but in the face of so many wrongs, that sympathy was never warranted. More to the point, River being so awful also drags down the other characters. Instead of seeing Violet and others who try to help River as steadfast or strong they only come off as enablers who are painfully, dangerously ignorant of the devil who has just come to town.

This blend of gothic horror and devilish anti-heroes will appeal to fans of Hush, Hush and Beautiful Creatures. Readers looking for a book with characters who are actually likable instead of just characters who say they are likable will be better served elsewhere.

Possible Pairings: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Compulsion by Martina Boone, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick, Beautiful Creature by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Swoon by Nina Malkin, Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore, The Beautiful and the Cursed by Page Morgan, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel