Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton is a tale of two halves. The first half starts well with its intriguing storyline of a village that essentially sacrifices one son every seven years to protect its overall wealth and wellbeing. Then we find out what happens during the sacrifice and all sense flies out the window. Add to that a romantic triangle that left me more than a little confused as well as uncomfortable, and you have a novel that I would rather forget.
Mairwen, Rhun, and Arthur. Mair is the daughter of the resident witch, heir to the Grace witches who created the spell that established the Slaughter Moon rituals. Rhun is the chosen one, born to lead and born to become the next saint. Arthur is Rhun’s opposite but equally determined to become a Saint at the next Slaughter Moon and prove himself to the entire town. Together they make up the next generation of leaders for the small village of Three Graces.
Mair loves Rhun. Arthur loves Mair. Rhun loves Arthur. The three trade kisses and talk about marrying each other. There is even one passage in which Mair jokes that no one would know who the father of her children would be. To call theirs a nonconformist relationship is an understatement. All I can say is that it confused me and made me more than a little uncomfortable.
The drama starts when the Slaughter Moon comes four years early, and Mair must lose Rhun to sainthood. She fights against tradition. Arthur wants to stand in Rhun’s stead. So naturally, all three end up in the mysterious woods during the night of the ritual. Of course, all three also make it out of those woods with a better understanding of the ritual and bargain established all those years ago. This is the point where I feel the story loses all credence.
For one thing, the triumvirate exits the woods with a former saint who first entered the woods ten years prior. Except, he has antlers growing out of his head, veins wrapped around his limbs, talons instead of nails, fangs in place of his eyeteeth, horns, and other growths that mark him as more otherworldly than human. And the townspeople accept him. His mother comes over immediately and tries to hug him. Their acceptance, while laudable, is completely unnatural. To me, that is more an element of fantasy than any of the physical changes.
The story only gets worse from there, in my opinion. There is much confronting of the past as well as a determination to right the wrongs inflicted on the village boys. Strange Grace becomes predictable in its charge towards righteousness and the actions of the characters. The ending is mystical and weird, and I just did not have the patience for any of it.
Strange Grace is, to me, an odd story. Rhun is too good, Arthur too angry, and Mair too indignant and desperate to save the boy she loves. There is no depth to their characters to make them interesting. I struggle to recognize the villagers as human beings because their reactions and interactions don’t feel authentic or realistic. Plus, while the story’s basic shell is interesting, its resolution bothers me more than it should for a story I really didn’t enjoy. Strange Grace is just a little too strange for even me.