Strange Grace

400p. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks. Sept. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781534402089.
Gr 9 Up—Two hundred years ago, the townspeople of Three Graces made a bargain with the devil to sacrifice their best young man every seven years during the Slaughter Moon in exchange for a peaceful, disease-free existence. When a woman goes into labor prematurely and a farmer discovers blighted crops, everyone knows that the bargain has been compromised. Now Rhun, the next chosen saint, must sacrifice himself to the Devil's Forest four years early. His best friends Mair, the new Grace Witch, and Arthur, a gender-nonconforming outsider, follow Rhun into the forest to save him. This dark fantasy reads like a gothic fairy tale full of creepy rituals. Written in present tense, the narrative maintains a spooky intensity as it switches among the main characters' points of view. Although the three protagonists have well-developed story arcs, Rhun's saintly perfection makes his journey less compelling than Mair's mysterious connection to the forest and Arthur's refusal to conform to the town's strict gender roles. A complicated love triangle develops as they attempt to save their community from a deal with the devil that is rooted in secrets and lies. Gruesome descriptions of bloody charms, wicked forest creatures, and shape-shifting devils will attract horror enthusiasts. Hand this to fans of Anna-Marie McLemore and Kendare Blake.
VERDICT Purchase where dark fantasy is in demand.

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