Novel Spotlight: Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon

Hope was a wonderful, terrible thing. It made you long for things you had no possibility of gaining.

It is no secret that Gravemaidens was one of my favorite books of this past year!!!

I devoured it over and over…
And over…
(Okay, you get the point.)

Kammani is fierce, fiery and stubborn—just like a certain book blogger I know. I can honestly say, though, that this one almost slipped under my radar. If it weren’t for a few very adamant literacy students who bugged me about acquiring the novel for their library, I would’ve sorely missed this writing in my life without even knowing the great pleasure it would have given me.

As with any request, I had to give it the once-over; I reached out to its author Kelly Coons in a request for an arc, and once I received it, I never put it down.

Instantly, the world in these pages absorbed me. I raced through the adventure with Kammani and her crew word by word, line by line.

GRAVEMAIDENS is Kelly Coon’s debut novel, but not her first forte in writing. As an editor, former English teacher, and test prep author, she is well-versed in the world of education. It was easy to get lost in her words, and her soft spot for literacy and teaching really opened my heart to her as a person. (It’s important for me to love the author and their work!)

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Author: Kelly Coon
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Format/Source: ARC/Audiobook

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 sandstone 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. 

In her dark and mesmerizing debut, Kelly Coon weaves a story of sisterly love, stubborn determination, and undying faith. Two sisters, each yearning for polar opposite outcomes, must deal with the King’s death—sealing their fates forever. With resplendent prose, unique plot, and detailed worldbuilding, Kelly Coon’s writing is reminiscent of Kendare Blake, Sarah Glenn Marsh, and AG Howard. Gravemaidens wins a solid 5/5 stars, earning a place with the BEST OF THE BEST for this year’s releases!

If you are interested in the full review of GRAVEMAIDENS, check it out here!

As part of DEBUT DECEMBER, I reached out to Kelly with some questions that my students (and the blog) had. From questions about her writing to Kammani’s journey, and even a few silly questions, Kelly graciously indulged our eager conversation, and it has been fantastic getting to know her world!

Student inspired:

What inspired you to write this book?

History! I was inspired by the ancient practice of human sacrifice that took place across the globe in a variety of cultures. Something about that concept fascinated me. The idea of someone being willing to die for a promised afterlife they’ve never seen is shocking, and I wondered what would have to be promised to someone in order for them to willingly end their life.

Why a 3 maiden send off, instead of just one or two?

I ran across a story about Queen Puabi from Sumer who had been buried with three teen girls who were likely her handmaidens. Many men often married other women (or had concubines) if their first wives couldn’t conceive an heir, so I thought that in this fantasy city-state of Alu, a king would want some spares.

Can I get a book about Iltani, please?

Haha! Yes, please! I’d sign up for that. =)

Do you use the library?

All the time. As a kid, we didn’t have a lot of money, so most of my books came from the library. In fact, the librarian was so kind, she ordered more books for me in the MG and YA section after I read every single book they had in stock. To this day, I borrow books from the library for myself and my kids.

Do Authors like people getting their books from the libraries?

Absolutely. It’s an honor. It makes me feel like my words have greater reach. Plus, I know what it’s like to want to read a book and not have the cash to purchase it.

What were your 3 – haha, see what we did there – favorite books growing up?

Good one!  Hmmm. That’s tough. I’m OLD OLD OLD, so I grew up with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, though they weren’t my favorites. One of my favorite books was The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. It’s the first book that made me sob right out loud. Another one I read thirteen times in a row was called The Ghost in the Third Row by Bruce Coville, though I recognize as an adult that Nina was a little bit of a brat (probably why I connected with her as a kid). I also LOVED The Babysitter’s Club series.

If you could be any animal, what would it be?

A dog, for sure. They get free food, all the snuggles they can handle, and get to run around outside with zero responsibilities.

Would you live in Alu?

Absolutely not. I’d have a serious problem with the way women were treated and would probably be the one getting my teeth bashed out with a brick for speaking up.

Would you rather:

*DR. PEPPER or COKEDiet Dr. Pepper!

*PAPERBACK OR HARDBACK: Paperback every single day of the week. (Easier to read and transport!)

*KATNISS or TRIS:  Katniss because arrows

*JACOB or EDWARD: (ha!) Edward, obviously

*DOGS or CATS: Doggos


Blog inspired:

What is the biggest lesson learned while writing Gravemaidens?

Even when you think you’re finished writing, you’re not finished unless you’ve gotten some more eyes on it. Critique partners are amazing and can bring new insight to your stories. They make you look at things from a different angle, which is nearly impossible to do when you’re writing alone.

The characters in ‘Gravemaidens’ are all headstrong, vibrant and bold women. Which character do you feel like you put yourself into most?

Kammani has my drive and determination, but Iltani has my smart mouth. As an adult, I have to be kind and polite and not say everything that pops into my head, but Iltani gets to sound off LOUD AND CLEAR, and some days it would be nice (if problematic) to tell people to shut up who are bothering you. (But it’s not nice, and I don’t recommend doing it, for the record. DEFINITELY NOT.)

NanoWriMo just ended, what advice would you give someone just finishing up their first draft?

Revise, revise, revise! Study craft books like The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maas or Story Genius by Lisa Cron. Oooh! I also love The Anatomy of Story by John Truby. Read those, take notes, and then go back through your draft and see what you’re missing. Also, like I said before, hand it out to other people and let them critique you. Don’t be so rigid that you’re afraid to get critiqued. You can improve so much by listening to trusted writing partners.

Which comes first, the plot or the characters?

Usually plot, although sometimes I get a character kinda bouncing around in my head and I need to find a place for them. That happened once for me. The characters came first and I had to try to figure out which story they were in!

We are DYING! Is there anything you can tell us about the adventure our girls (and boys) are headed off into!?

YES! After an assassination attempt, Kammani and crew realize that the safe haven they’ve built for themselves in the nearby city of Manzazu is not so safe after all. She must oust a wicked ruler from the throne without war, since she knows that war causes death and disease. But to do that, she’ll have to rise up against an all-female army of scorpion warriors who are bent on revenge while trusting her instincts, and her heart, to see her through.

About the Author:

YA author Kelly Coon 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. Gravemaidens is her debut novel.

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