Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Graced by Amanda Pillar

Graced by Amanda Pillar is the author's début novel, although she has edited several anthologies (such as Ishtar) and had several short stories published. I also interviewed her last year as part of the Snapshot. Graced is secondary world urban/pre-industrial fantasy with vampires, werewolves and magic — Graced — humans.

City Guard Elle Brown has one goal in life: to protect her kid sister, Emmie. Falling in love–and with a werewolf at that–was never part of the deal.

Life, however, doesn't always go to plan, and when Elle meets Clay, everything she thought about her world is thrown into turmoil. Everything, that is, but protecting Emmie, who is Graced with teal-colored eyes and an unknown power that could change their very existence. But being different is dangerous in their home city of Pinton, and it's Elle's very own differences that capture the attention of the Honorable Dante Kipling, a vampire with a bone-deep fascination for a special type of human.

Dante is convinced that humans with eye colors other than brown are unique, but he has no proof. The answers may exist in the enigmatic hazel eyes of Elle Brown, and he's determined to uncover their secrets no matter the cost...or the lives lost.

Graced is a very character-driven book. There are four point of view characters not leaving much room for anything other than their interacting story lines. The physical setting, which as I said is pre-industrial, is mostly a background sketch in front of which the characters do their thing. The social setting, however is more fleshed out. We get a good idea of social hierarchy, especially as imposed by different magical traits. For example, the main city is more or less run by aristocratic vampires, aristocratic humans also exist and the poorest people, especially those that fall into debt, end up as slaves to the vampires.

There are also humans with magical powers called the Graced. The type of magical ability is dictated by eye colour, with brown being no power and other colours having telepathy, telekinesis and so forth. Elle, my favourite of the main characters, comes from a Graced family but has no particular power herself, being half brown. Her significantly younger sister, however, has a new eye colour and Elle feels it's her responsibility to look after her and not let her get pulled into their grandmother's suspect machinations. Elle can't stop herself being pulled into her grandmother's plans, however, and ends up on an undercover mission with an unreliable vampire.

Dante, aforementioned unreliable vampire, is a unique character about whom I have mixed feelings. At first it looks like he's being positioned as the bad guy, but he ends up being a sympathetic character, more or less. He's asexual but also painted as odd for other reasons. Other characters call him a sociopath at least once, but I don't think that's medically/psychologically accurate. He doesn't understand other people and behaves unpredictably himself because of it.

The other two characters are Clay, Elle's hot werewolf love interest, and Anton, an ordinary human aristocrat who gets tangled up with Dante (who in turn gets tangled up with Elle, bringing all the characters together).

If you enjoy strongly character-driven stories or like urban fantasy then I highly recommend Graced. If you like the setting to be a character in its own right this one might not quite be for you. This book is self-contained, but the ending is left open for a possible (but not mandatory) sequel.

4 / 5 stars

First published: February 2015, Momentum Books
Series: Maybe? Book one if it is.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Disclaimer: The author is a friend, but I have nevertheless endeavoured to write an unbiased review
Challenges: Australian Women Writers' Challenge

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