I’ve sat down to write this review several times and what has made itself most clear to me is that this review is difficult because The Grace Year by Kim Liggett has a lot to unpack. I don’t usually like comparing books to others, but this one really does speak to me as a conglomerate of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Hunger Games, with an odd shoutout to Disney’s Frozen. Probably not what you expected. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting. And damn, was it terrifying.
The world of The Grace Year is a very misogynistic one. At some point within the beginnings of the society, the men banded together to disempower all of the women. They were turned into property, little more than breeding stock. The men choose the futures of the women for them by either taking them as wives or sending them off to be laborers or prostitutes should they not be chosen.
And their biggest method of control is blaming the actions of men on women and their heretic magic; for no man would ever force himself on a woman if her magic hadn’t tempted him. So, in one of the most terrifying and elaborate methods of control I’ve seen in quite some time, at the age of sixteen women are sent away for a year to live within an encampment in order to burn through and rid themselves of all their magic before returning home. Should any woman afterward be accused of harboring her magic, she is immediately executed.
Not only that but as history has shown, the grace year itself is a rather dangerous one. Every year the number of girls who return is significantly less than the number who left. Subjected to the dangers of their magic and the dangers of poachers, who cut them up to sell their parts off as magical remedies to keep people young, many of the girls die during their year away.
I have to admit, I was excited about reading this book. I’ve always been a fan of dystopian novels and I enjoy watching the characters fight against corrupt societies in order to change them for the better. And something about the way The Grace Year was presented really captured my attention. I’ve left it rather disturbed, but not unimpressed entirely. I think what has really kept me interested in novels like this is the fact that it builds empowerment to stand up against atrocities.
And living in a rather patriarchal society that is terrifying on its own sometimes, watching women fight back against that is truly something amazing.
The aspects of The Grace Year that ring true and I find most terrifying come from how men often use religion to control women. It’s perhaps a bit more subtle nowadays with some religions and it is far more common for women to fight against it, but it is terrifying all the same. The Grace Year is this in an extreme. But there are kernels of truth within it. And in that sense, I found this story quite compelling. If you pay attention, you can piece together all the methods of control that have been put in place rather quickly.
And it is elaborate.
The story as a whole is fairly impressive, though the writing did feel choppy at times. While some events are fairly predictable, others come as a surprise. Much of the story is fast-paced and leaves you eager to read more, while some smaller bits seem to take forever. But the worst thing about this entire book was, unfortunately, the romance. Not only was it very insta-love-y, but it felt forced and contrived.
I didn’t like the pairing, I didn’t care for his character at all, and it was so rushed. It’s incredibly unfortunate when the love interest is flat, but it’s even more bothersome when he’s unbelievable. Ironically, the biggest reason for this was the fact that much of the time spent building a connection between the two lovers was summarized. Montages work within film, but not so much in a novel. I didn’t believe that they were in love despite them saying so both because of the summaries and because they only knew each other for a short period of time.
One thing I will say before I end this review is that if you are looking for a novel that will take down the patriarchy in an incredibly satisfying way, this isn’t it yet. The Grace Year very much reads like a book that requires a sequel or two. And, to be fair, the two books I compared it to at the top didn’t have satisfying endings of those in power being overthrown in their first novel either. But they definitely set it up well for something like that in the future.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.