Release date: 28 June 2022
Read by: Carlotta Brentan, Michael Gallagher
Book Boxes: FairyLoot, Fae Crate, Fox & Wit YA (July), Novel Tea Chest
Synopsis: Three weddings. Three funerals. Alessa’s gift from the gods is supposed to magnify a partner’s magic, not kill every suitor she touches.
Now, with only weeks left until a hungry swarm of demons devours everything on her island home, Alessa is running out of time to find a partner and stop the invasion. When a powerful priest convinces the faithful that killing Alessa is the island’s only hope, her own soldiers try to assassinate her.
Desperate to survive, Alessa hires Dante, a cynical outcast marked as a killer, to become her personal bodyguard. But as rebellion explodes outside the gates, Dante’s dark secrets may be the biggest betrayal. He holds the key to her survival and her heart, but is he the one person who can help her master her gift or destroy her once and for all?
Emily Thiede's exciting fantasy debut, This Vicious Grace, will keep readers turning the pages until the devastating conclusion and leave them primed for more!
Hope flared, bright enough to burn.
First thing’s first: this book is not YA. The main character is 18, the love interest is 19-20, and there is quite a steamy scene (a couple of steamy scenes) on the page. I would say This Vicious Grace would be more appropriately labeled as New Adult. As for its YA elements, because the book does have some, they are very generic and derivative of other familiar aspects of popular fantasy romance out right now. Sure, readers get a lovely, Italian-esque setting, complete with the language, idioms at the beginning of chapters, and foods; but the book overall is pretty much just like every other YA on the market. Chosen one, isolated MC, grumpy bodyguard love interest with sad back story, steamy (inappropriate for YA) sex scene, and the list goes on and on. It wasn’t terrible, but it certainly doesn’t stand out.
After the dry beginning with copious amounts of info-dump, the book picks up and gets a bit interesting toward the 30% mark. Our main character, Alessa, can’t touch those around her because her power somehow drains the life force of anyone unfortunate enough to make skin contact with her (hello, Rogue). She has lost favor with her people, who are reliant on her powers to save them from an impending demon horde (kinda like Draven's Wraith Kings and Riddles’ Convergence series) because she can’t stop accidentally killing her partners. These partners, in tandem with the Finestra, must work together to defeat the demon horde by allowing Alessa to access their power in order to use it against the horde and stop it, but why can’t the Fonte do this alone? Why the need to have a middleman? Fontes can all use their powers separately from the Finestra to begin with—what’s the sense of all the convolution?
Alessa is a fairly good main character; she’s a bit of a Mary Sue, but has a touch of not so much Mary Sue thrown in (I’m not anti-Mary Sue, though I know some readers loathe the trope). She is isolated from her people but revered spiritually as a savior (hello, Poppy), though she feels more than a little dejected because she’s killed a few of her suitors (all completely understandable). The problem with this is, as she has lost her people’s favor, she has also lost the confidence of those who serve her, such as her guards, and they conspire to kill her. After a failed assassination attempt, she meanders to a fighting ring and finds a gifted fighter (hello, Wolverine) and pays him to guard her.
After predictably falling in love, Alessa and Dante (and some other characters) mainly focus on things I hate in “YA” books, which happens to be combat training and the flirty, almost-kiss-after-the-accidental-fall-on-top-of-the-girl/guy-on-the-mat thing. The rest of the book is divided between the impending demon horde attack and the conflicts that arise with forbidden love when one of the couple is promised to another. Forbidden love is not a bad trope in my opinion, but I don’t think it’s very artfully done here. Though I grew to love Dante and his dreamy, grumpy guardiness, he was a cardboard cut out of other guards in other stories (Castiel, Wolverine) and felt like just more of the same. The narrative also presents too much backtracking to make things fit and put the two doomed lovers together in order to create more tension. After a while, the repetition made my eyes droop and I had to take some breaks.
Additionally, the world building is superficial; it suffers from too many things going on at once and fell flat for me. Though it has enormous potential, the basic premise of the magic system was what drew me into the story but lost its fizz with all the buzzing of the marriage plots and the magical maladies and the hot-and-heavy unlucky lovers.
On a minor sidenote (though not for an English teacher), incorrect subject/object pronouns, pronoun/antecedent disagreement, incorrect conditional tense, and other grammar and usage stuff plagued the book and drove me to distraction. If I had a print review copy, I’m not sure I’d have been able to keep myself from writing in it. My eye twitched quite a lot.
On a brighter note, the audio narrators made the experience quite tolerable. Brentan’s tone is varied, the character voices excellently differentiated, and the words enunciated well enough to crank the speed up to 2x and get the show on the road. The book did not feature Gallagher's narration but for small snippets toward the end of the book, and the narration was also quite enjoyable.
Ultimately, though it wasn’t a horrible reading experience, I had a very hard time staying focused on the story and not zoning out; I’ve read the story too many times before. It really feels like every couple of years (or months, or weeks), there is another book with the same premise but a different setting and different menial details. I certainly hope a book comes along soon and gets me out of this reading slump; I keep reading duds, and it’s extremely demotivating.
My thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy, for which I willingly give my own, honest opinion.