Hi friends! Life as a public librarian during COVID has been pretty wild, so I haven’t been super active with blogging lately. But I’m super happy to be hopping back on here as part of the official blog tour for one of my most anticipated reads of the year, Warmaidens by Kelly Coon! I’ve had the joy of being a part of Kelly’s street team for both Gravemaidens and Warmaidens and I was so excited to see how this duology would wrap up. Before I get to my review, read on for a bit about the book!
AUTHOR: Kelly Coon
CATEGORY/AUDIENCE: Young Adult
RELEASE: December 15, 2020
PUBLISHER: Delacorte Press
LINKS: Goodreads | Bookshop.org | Book Depository
SYNOPSIS: “Warmaidens is the dark, action-packed conclusion to the heartwrenching Gravemaidens fantasy duology. Kammani and the maidens are now going to war against the ruler who tried to entomb them.
Just a few moons after escaping the tomb in Alu, Kammani and the other runaway maidens have found refuge in the city-state of Manzazu. There, Kammani has become a respected healer, especially among the warriors she’s brought back from the brink of death. Now that the nightmares of Alu are fading, she can finally decide whether or not to take Dagan’s hand in marriage.
But when an assassin murders a healer he believes is Kammani and attempts to kill the displaced queen of Alu, the maidens realize they’ve been found.
Hungry for revenge, Manzazu’s queen wants to strike back at Alu with her fiercest weapons—her scorpion warrior maidens—but Kammani knows that war harms more than it heals. To save the innocents and any chance of a future with Dagan, Kammani must take down Alu’s ruler before their lives burn up in the flames of war.”
Spoiler alert: This review contains spoilers for the first book in the duology, Gravemaidens.
After their escape from Lugal Marus’s tomb at the end of Gravemaidens, Kammani has been hiding in Manzazu along with her sister Nanaea, her brother Kasha (with whom she & Nanaea reunited in the first book), her best friend Iltani, her beau Dagan, and the heir to the Alu throne, Arwia. Kammani is following her dreams of being a healer, and she and her friends have built a happy life together. But when an assaniation attempt is made on Kammani and Arwia, their illusion of safety is shattered. As war begins to brew between Manzazu and Alu, Kammani realizes there is only one way to prevent more bloodshed: to return to Alu and restore Arwia to the throne—by taking down Alu’s wrongful ruler, Uruku.
Warmaidens is an action-packed, satisfying conclusion that explores what it really means to have power: the power to heal, the power to rule. Throughout the novel, as bloodshed continues around her, Kammani wonders if she really has what it takes to be a great healer like her father. Meanwhile, Arwia is also deeply worried that she will never be seen as capable of ruling Alu. I absolutely loved this juxtaposition of two very different types of power that these two very different girls must wield.
When we saw Kammani and her friends flee Alu at the end of Gravemaidens, I think all readers breathed a sigh of relief. But Warmaidens really brings their story full circle as they’re forced to reconcile with what they left behind; they have to come to terms with their responsibility to the people of Alu, who’ve been left defenseless under Uruku’s rule. While Gravemaidens asked what you’re willing to sacrifice for your sister, Warmaidens asks what you’re willing to sacrifice for your community and your people.
As we all know, the best part of a sequel is revisiting characters that we’ve grown to love. Our beloved protagonist, Kammani, is back and fiercer than ever, as well as her younger sister Nanaea and brother Kasha. We get to see even more of Kammani’s best friend, the flirty and wild Iltani, whose sex positivity and humor might make her my favorite character in the series! And of course, we have the dreamy Dagan, who remains deeply in love with Kammani.
Much like in the first novel, the romance between Kammani and Dagan is definitely present but isn’t the focal point of the story. Kammani isn’t ready for the commitment of marriage and she has difficulty accepting the misogynistic rules of their society; the idea of potentially losing her independence and herself in a marriage doesn’t sit well with her. Kammani has always been an outlier in Alu culture: she despised the traditions that nearly took her sister to the grave, and she vehemently rejects the idea that marriage is all she’s meant for. She refuses to give up her rights, her freedom, or her dreams of being a healer to marry Dagan, even though they love each other. I love that Kammani is unapologetically feminist—she knows that her value is not rooted in marriage, and she knows she doesn’t owe Dagan anything.
In addition to these beloved characters, we get introduced to some new characters as well, including the queen of Manzazu and the Koru, an elite group of warrior women. I loved that Manzazu was a very women-centered nation and that the army was made up of strong women. Throughout the novel, Kammani is trying to stop a war between Manzazu and Alu by removing Uruku from the throne of Alu by any means necessary. Warmaidens is full of plotting as she and her friends desperately try to take down the evil Uruku and assert Arwia’s power before more lives can be lost.
Much like Gravemaidens, Warmaidens is a fast-paced story that will keep readers turning the page and trying to guess what will happen next. What I love most about Kelly’s writing is that she creates an immersive fantasy setting that is still super accessible and easy to follow. As a reader who often struggles to get into fantasy, I was not only able to follow these novels with ease but also felt like I’d been transported right into Alu. The pacing is spot-on and was just the right amount of action without making it too difficult to keep up. I love recommending this duology to teens at my library who enjoy fantasy but want something easier to read or that isn’t too long. Because Gravemaidens and Warmaidens don’t have any high fantasy elements (no dragons or faeries around here!), they almost feel like historical fiction; I love that whimsical vibe, as if I’m reading of a far land from long ago.
When a debut is as good as Gravemaidens was, you can’t help but wonder if the sequel will live up. I’m happy to report that Warmaidens was well worth the wait and was the perfect ending to Kammani’s story. It’s important to note that there are some scenes involving battle and medical treatment, so be aware going in if those themes are triggering for you. This duology will be loved by fans of We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Crier’s War by Nina Varela. While I’m sad to say goodbye to Kammani and the whole squad—Dagan, Nanaea, Kasha, Arwia, and Iltani—I know whatever Kelly Coon writes next will be just as incredible.
Kelly Coon is an editor for Blue Ocean Brain, a former high school English teacher, and a wicked karaoke singer in training. She adores giving female characters the chance to flex their muscles and use their brains. She lives near Tampa with her three sons, brilliant husband, and a rescue pup who will steal your sandwich. Gravemaidens is her debut novel.
KEEP UP WITH KELLY: Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook
Thank you to Delacorte Pres for the free review copy, and for including me on this tour! And a special thank-you to Kelly for having me serve on her street team!