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A King Does Not Die Alone : A ‘Gravemaidens’ Book Review

As a teacher, I typically try to stay up to date on new books coming out for my students. Occasionally though, a student brings a book to my attention and I’m sent down a path to find and read it before I can safely and comfortably approve or deny it as a recommended read.
Well, more than one student brought this book to my attention and once I read the synopsis I could easily see why they were intrigued. With a world premise that we don’t often see and a description that grabbed me instantly, I knew I had to find this novel!
Off I went to Netgalley, where I was promptly DENIED! Heartbroken, I looked for another way to procure this ARC – via trade routes. Without much luck, I took a chance and shot an email over to Kelly Coon. As a fellow teacher, I was overjoyed to learn that Kelly’s team granted my request and within a few days, the eGalley was on my kindle and I was diving in….

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Author: Kelly Coon

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Format/Source: Netgalley eGalley

From GoodReads: 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.

The river is wide. The river is deep.”

The Book Dragon breaks down….

…the plot…

This story was fantastic! The plot was definitely one that I have not read over and over – which made the read refreshing and fun!
Stuck in a society where each time the King dies, 3 beautiful girls must usher him into the afterlife, his Grave maidens. They are there solely for the king to NOT be afraid, or to enter the next life alone.
We have two different stories happening at once, a sister who is THRILLED with being chosen as a Gravemaiden and Kammani who is trying everything to figure out why the King is dying and to stop it before her sister dies with him. Each one vying for a different outcome, regardless of how it would hurt the other.
I’m not sure if this is rooted in a real mythology or just something that Kelly created in her imagination – either way it was AMAZING! The details that make this plot believable are heart wrenching and exquisite all at once. **Some of the details are very specific and horrible – eg: if a woman speaks out without proof, she can be bashed in the face with a stone, children being taken from their families as recourse for the loss of another child. They really brought you down into the gut of their world and connected it to raw emotions.
The twists that come into place throughout the book are satisfying, though a few were predictable. That did not take away from the story at all, though! Though predictable, they were valid and well done.
At the core, the plot really was based on strong female relationships, and I could not get over that! It was rejuvenating to read a book based on family and friendship instead of romantic love.
That being said, I actually ENJOYED the romance in this novel because it was pre-established and not insta love. I am a huge proponent of not having instalove in a story, ever.
The pacing in the book was up and down, though it did not hinder the flow of the story. I typically prefer fast paced books, they are just easier to read for me, but this novel’s ebb and flow fit well with the ebb and flow of the character’s actions and emotions.

I take their souls to earn my keep

The end of day; Is the start of night

…the characters…

Let’s be real. We come for the plot but stay for the characters, and these characters were easily to instantly fall in love with. From our main character, Kammani, to the villains of the novel, which I cannot divulge without spoiling so much.
Kammani is the star of our story. She is a stubborn, willful girl who refuses to conform to the beliefs of her society. She knows that what they ask is wrong, though many do not agree with her. She holds a set of beliefs close to her and you cannot fault her for sticking to her core values. However, Kammani is a very flawed and selfish character at times. That doesn’t mean that she’s not a good characters, it only means that she is REAL. We all do and say things that are selfish, stupid and stubborn. It was nice to see a protagonist who also did this. It’s a human trait, and many times the YA genre (readers especially) likes to pretend it’s not.The supporting characters around her are just as fabulous. Kammani’s sister Nanea is just as stubborn as her sister, though she could do with a firm hand and a good ass kicking a few times. Though, once you discover her motives or reasoning behind it, which I caught on to very quickly, it’s easy to understand why she wanted to join the King in death so badly. It was such a struggle for both of them, the love they shared as sisters – yet both wanting the exact opposite outcome. There were times though, that Nanea showed grace and love.

“…it’s not as easy for me as you this it is. For if my wish comes true, then you will have failed, and who knows what that means for you. I’m not as cruel as you think.”


There were so many layers to their relationships that honestly kept me turning page after page because I desperately needed to know who would rise.
Iltani, the bestie, is literally the goals of best friends. She is the OG ride or die. No matter how stupid Kammani’s plans were, she was undoubtedly there with her, making her way in fashion and flash! I really hope that we see more of her in the second book, because she really deserves to shine.
There are far too many characters to list and gush about but Nin Arwia and Dagan are honorable mentions. I really felt for the princess, even as I suspected everything she did. She was a really great addition to the cast and I appreciated her on so many levels. I really enjoy characters who seem timid but are fierce when need arises.

I bathe in horror, bask in fright

Three queens of beauty”

…the writing….

Kelly’s writing genuinely blew me away. From the story telling to the wording of her prose, I was thoroughly entranced as I read. I am a fairly critical reader, easily bored and forgetful, but this book stuck with me completely. Her world building is on par with some of the best, akin to AG Howard, Sarah Glenn Marsh and Kendare Blake. Once you step into Alu, you don’t step out without a fight with reality. Her prose are deliciously lyrical; each time a quotable line came up I would squeal with delight over how effortless her words read. It’s most definitely one of my favorites in the way of world building and prose. I would give her writing alone a 5/5 stars.

Maidens fair

I’ll hide their souls within my lair

…final thoughts…

There is still so much I could easily rave about, but it would spoil all of the fun for you! Kammani and her friends are strong willed and fun, hopeful and realistic – yet always living for what they dream, not what lays in front of them.

“For the river is wide; The river is deep”

tl;dr

In her dark and mesmerizing debut, Kelly Coon weaves a story of sisterly love, stubborn determination and undying faith. Two sisters, each wanting the opposite outcome and a King who’s death determines it all. With resplendent prose, unique plot, and detailed worldbuilding – Kelly Coon’s writing is reminiscent of Kendare Blake, Sarah Glenn Marsh, and AG Howard. Gravemaidens earns a solid 5/5 stars, earning a place with the best of the best for this year’s releases!

I take their souls to earn my keep

About the Author:

Kelly Coon (GRAVEMAIDENS, Oct. 29 2019 Delacorte Press, sequel 2020) is an editor for Blue Ocean Brain, a member of the Washington Post Talent Network, a former high school English teacher, ACT test prep book author, and a wicked karaoke singer in training. She adores giving female characters the chance to flex their muscles and use their brains, and wishes every story got the happy ending she’s living near Tampa with her three sons, brilliant husband, and a rescue pup who will steal your sandwich.

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