Gravemaidens (Gravemaidens, #1)
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 sand-stone 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.
The current lugal is now on his deathbed, and they are choosing the three maidens who will be forced to die alongside him to marry him in the afterlife. Everyone sees this as a great honor, for they will be queens in the next life. However, Kammani does not see it this way and sees only the needless death. When her sister is chosen as one of the three maidens, Kammani is horrified and tries to decide how to save her. The clearest solution is to prevent the lugal’s death, making the death of the maidens unnecessary. As such, she works her way to become his healer and must figure out what is ailing him- or risk losing her sister to death.
The world-building here is really fantastic, and Alu came to life off the pages. There are also a lot of strong characters aside from Kammani. For instance, some of the secondary characters really develop during the story through Kammani’s eyes, such as the princess, Dagan, her childhood friend who wants to marry her, and Nasu, one of the palace guards.
Many of the plot twists were easy to see coming, but Kammani is young and they are more distant in her eyes. She feels like she carries the weight of the world on her shoulders, but this is mainly a burden she has chosen to carry. However, she is also slow to figure things that seem pretty obvious out, but this allows the secondary plots to happen. I still enjoyed every second of this page-turner (as evidenced by my late night/early morning review).
While the main plot is wrapped up, the ending does leave a great lead-in for the next book, and this leaves me eagerly awaiting what will happen next. I would add warnings for sexual assault, torture/terrible punishments, and suicide/murder.
I highly recommend this YA fantasy to people who enjoy THE SELECTION, THE RED QUEEN, and SHATTER ME. This is a fantastic debut, and I look forward to reading more from this talented author in the future!