Published by Del Rey on October 10th 2019
The resistance starts here...
No one speaks of the grace year.It's forbidden.We're told we have the power to lure grown men from their beds, make boys lose their minds, and drive the wives mad with jealousy. That's why we're banished for our sixteenth year, to release our magic into the wild before we're allowed to return to civilization.But I don't feel powerful.I don't feel magical.
Tierney James lives in an isolated village where girls are banished at sixteen to the northern forest to brave the wilderness - and each other - for a year. They must rid themselves of their dangerous magic before returning purified and ready to marry - if they're lucky.
It is forbidden to speak of the grace year, but even so every girl knows that the coming year will change them - if they survive it...
The Grace Year is
The Handmaid's Tale
meets Lord of the Flies - a page-turning feminist dystopia about a young woman trapped in an oppressive society, fighting to take control of her own life.
I thought for sure I would love The Grace Year, so when I read the description on NetGalley I requested it straight away. As so often happens (to me at least!), by the time I got the approval I was in the middle of something else and I found myself putting The Grace Year off. Finally, right before the end of 2019 I picked it up, and immediately regretted not having picked it up sooner!
During the grace year, girls are sent away to release and use up their magic, sent off into the wild to fend for themselves against the wilderness, the poachers who want to sell them for parts, and at times, the other girls. The girls don’t exactly get along – in a world with not enough men, a small number of the girls are ‘veiled’ before leaving; selected as a bride-to-be for when they return…IF they return. Not all the girls will make it back, and a man whose veiled girl doesn’t come back may well choose another bride from the girls who do. Bitterness against the chosen girls is strong, and in a world dominated by men, the girls are more interested in competing than supporting each other.
Tierney has no interest in being veiled. She just wants to get through the grace year and then go to work in the fields; it’s hard work, but she can be herself there at least, not some meek wife who goes along with her husband and perpetuates the cycle of the grace year and dead girls. It’s forbidden to talk about the grace year, so like the other girls, she has no idea what to expect. I think the mystery of the grace year is crucial for the enjoyment of the book so I won’t say much about the plot, except that it’s a spectacular blend of horror and mystery. Throughout the book, I was never quite sure whether the magic was real, whether something supernatural was going on, and who or what was terrorising the girls. I thought the plot was brilliant, and the reveal of what exactly was happening was satisfying.
While the events are spooky and mysterious, The Grace Year is also a story about relationships and society, with well fleshed-out characters. The girls go into the grace year with nothing but contempt and competition between them, and it’s up to them how they will choose to respond to their year of isolation – will they support each other or use it as an excuse to terrorise and drive out those who don’t fit? Early reviews and publicity compared The Grace Year to The Handmaid’s Tale and Lord of The Flies and that’s a perfect fit. While I’ve seen a lot of books compared to The Handmaid’s Tale in the last few years (Vox, The Power, The Jewel, Who Runs the World?) this has been my favourite of the ones I’ve read – it’s thought-provoking, atmospheric, evocative and incredibly addictive.
Liggett’s writing is wonderfully atmospheric, and enables you to so clearly visualise the world Tierney lives in, without being excessively flowery or long-winded. The pacing is tight and ramps up satisfyingly; from an intriguing beginning to genuinely tense moments in the middle to a thrilling, emotional, epic ending. The Grace Year has it all; a plot I couldn’t put down, characters I was invested in, and a world both terrifying, believable and that I was desperate to know more about.