There Will Be Spoilers For Gravemaidens But Not Warmaidens- GOT IT? Ok.
Gravemaidens was a truly amazing debut from Kelly Coon (review and q and a linked). Having skimmed it (and my review) back over before reading Warmaidens (pre-order information linked), I guess it is fair to say I went in expecting a certain writing style, flow and character development. If I had to place Gravemaidens somewhere on the YA spectrum, it wasn’t towards the older side of YA. That is not at all a knock. I enjoyed Spin the Dawn, which is definitely towards the younger side of YA (younger than Gravemaidens) and am very much looking forward to reading my ARC of its sequel.
When Kammani and company galloped off into the proverbial sunset at the end of Gravemaidens, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Warmaidens because it wrapped up on a rather nice note. I assumed that Arwia would at some point return to claim the throne of Alu from Uruku and Gudanna. Outside of that general plot point, I expected to settle into the same structure and structure provided by Gravemaidens.
And initially? I’d say I was right. We find our group settled into a nice little town with a fierce queen and all woman army where Kammani has become a well respected healer, even if she is more based in science than the older healer is based in faith. Just after a ceremony where the army, guided by their most loved Goddess, beseeches her with a scorpion necklace that grants her the ability to call on them for anything she might need. All this while Semti is preparing to be wed with a glorious celebration to follow.
Yeah. And then Kelly Coon took my theory aaaaand…
Because Who Needs Two Ears, Anyway?
Well that escalated quickly. Next thing you know an ear near gets hacked off (well its dangling), two people are assassinated and all the hells break loose from there. Warmaidens is a book that takes no prisoners, throws the emergency break out the window and ups the anti on all the viciousness, violence and malevolence in Gravemaidens. Characters we love from the Gravemaidens, along with new characters come together (or do they… watch them now) to for alliances, secure political footholds and avenge personal losses, all while trying to rectify the rightful heir of the throne.
Thank you to Delacorte and Edelweiss for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Am I saying it is as gory as something I’ve just read like Nevernight by Jay Kristoff, of course not. Don’t be silly. What I am saying, is that go in prepared for a completely different type of book than Gravemaidens. For me? I absolutely ate it up. War isn’t pretty and if you want to reclaim a throne from a vicious ruler who tried to kill you and 1/2 dozen other to get, including your father, to take it? It isn’t going to be pretty. There is a lot of descriptive maiming, tortured hacking of bodies, war action death or near death gory scenes that consistently show up, in very appropriate places and ways throughout the book. Not everyone is going to survive. And those that do? They aren’t going to come out whole- not physically and definitely not mentally.
Speaking of which…
The Scars You Can’t See
Warmaidens maintains one crucial structural piece from Gravemaidens, but it does it with a bit more maturity and depth. It is not completely plot or character driven. On the surface the pacing is very much propelled by the action, drama and constant threat of danger. It is the doing, scheming and conflict that is at the heart of plot movement.
However, below those actions are often where the heart of the story lies. And in this Coon shines because melding the two together is no easy feat. Right from the start of the book, before an ear is dangling from a head, a character is dealing with PTSD in a very unhealthy way- through alcohol. This isn’t something dealt with lightly nor is it something that just goes away during the course of the book. It is something that has consequences. This isn’t the only character dealing with PTSD. However, each is dealing with it in different ways.
Some act out violently, lacking the patience and clarity of mind to plot out a course of action that will best accomplish their own goals, often making everything worse. Some are wallowing so far in guilt over the past that the more they tried to recoup from it, the more they try to take on, the more they suffer and drown and spiral down. And that just makes it worse for everyone around them.
Women’s rights continues as a main theme and driving force throughout Warmaidens just as it was in Gravemaidens. Having an all female army, a ceremony where men get to choose wives is a wake-up call for Kammani. Can she both find a way to change these archaic ceremonies but still choose to marry to a man that doesn’t see her as property, loves her for being a healer and a complete person?
Lastly, utter and complete grief. It is everywhere throughout this book. The utter amount of loss is palpable and Coon holds nothing back. She puts her characters through every emotion and you go right along with them. The decisions they make, how it clouds their minds and breaks their spirits is immeasurable. One or two characters that, at one point I was even starting to think- look I get, they are strong, they are steadfast, they don’t break- finally- even they broke. And that was brave writing because everyone has a breaking point.
Heart And Your Head
There is a saying…. sometimes following your heart means losing your mind. I feel like this was Kammani the entire book. Sometimes I guess we all need to find a balancing act between the two. Lord knows how much easier it is to say than to do. Kammani swings back and forth between each throughout the book, struggling to find the right place and then often dealing with the consequences of those decisions. Whether you agree with where she ends up, in any given point of the book, or at the end? It is the journey that makes her such a vivid character. The people she meets and the visions that plague her have to be reconciled before Kammani’s story arc can be completed. That is what ultimately closes her story arc.