Blurb from GoodReads:
Everyone said the Graces were witches.
They moved through the corridors like sleek fish, ripples in their wake. Stares followed their backs and their hair.
They had friends, but they were just distractions. They were waiting for someone different.
All I had to do was show them that person was me.
Like everyone else in her town, River is obsessed with the Graces, attracted by their glamour and apparent ability to weave magic. But are they really what they seem? And are they more dangerous than they let on?
There is such a lot of hype for this book, and there was a heck of a lot of excitement from me at the prospect of reading it (teen witches? A secret coven? Romance? Magic? And all set in a place that looks and sounds a lot like Cornwall? Um, YES PLEASE.) But with all this in mind, although I read it from cover to cover, it till rather disappointed me.
For pros, ‘The Graces‘ had some dreamy escapist moments, and Laure Eve’s style of writing is surprisingly addictive-pared back yet sensual, at times as aloof as her (unreliable) narrator, the mysterious River Page. (We never actually learn her real name,) who falls into the mysterious Grace family, and under their spell.
I liked the descriptions of each character- Stevie Nicks- esque Thalia Grace, hiding a dangerous need for control- angsty, witty Summer with her rock T-shirts and her kohl eyeliner, sultry Wolf with his salamander tattoo, tormented Marcus, fey Fenrin- River’s secret crush- ALTHOUGH I do wish they’d been expanded on: each sibling looked and seemed so different from one another they verged onto stereotype (e.g. hippy chick, rock chick, emo guy) and fell rather flat. We never really learn what River looks like, though, or much about her at all, and although I liked her enigmatic quality I wished there’d been more description because DEAR GAWD THIS FELT SLOW TO READ. I read this and at the end I was like: but what actually happened?!
At times it felt like Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History‘ mixed with ‘The Craft’ mixed with Joanne Harris’s ‘Gentlemen and Players‘- an unreliable narrator, a mounting sense of tension, the mystery over whether the Grace family really are witches, and the hint of a dark curse that has left each Grace secretly damaged.
I liked all of this in theory, as well as (SPOILER) the fact that it has LGBT characters, but I hated how the LGBT-ness was kept as a plot twist- that felt cheap to me-and the fact that the LGBT character in question then had to hide their sexuality? That they felt shamed into accepting an arranged relationship and setting up false hetero relationships? Ugh. I felt genuinely upset/aggravated by this- it seemed such a backward step- literally and metaphorically- in a novel that clearly tries so hard to be contemporary. What kind of message does this send out? This brings me neatly into the cons:
-It was more gritty in style than I expected- I would have liked it to be more magically realist, like the writing of Alice Hoffman– a style that would have ebbed and flowed like the sea all around the Graces. (Although I am admittedly biased because when it comes to magical writing, #AliceHoffmanisQueen.)
–The characters often ‘read’ young to me, so the references to sex and drugs kind of left me a bit unnerved, particularly in regard to Summer.
-I found River’s yearning for Fenrin annoying, considering that at time he seemed a real jerk. His ‘too cool for school’ shtick made my teeth grind.
-(SPOILER) I was shocked at the callous way Fenrin dismissed Thalia’s bulimia- I doubt a brother so apparently close to his family would really handle such an issue in this way, even if he was a bit of a jerk. Has the guy got no soul? No compassion? I felt so upset by this. (MAJOR SPOILER Having said that, the bit where he does actually confess his love for someone made my heart ache.) His reaction to Thalia, and the descriptions/hints to her eating disorder I felt could be triggering for some readers. It angered me that no-one- not even her seemingly oh-so-wonderful family- gave Thalia the help, support and love she so badly needed.
-I sort of wish that this novel had been written from the point of one of the LGBT characters (I say LGBT so as not to define their sexuality, and therefore give you a massive spoiler.) This would have been more refreshing for me, rather than ‘teen-girl-yearns-for-beautiful-unattainable-boy.’ I honestly hate how the LGBT issue was just a sidelined ‘shock moment’ when actually for me it could have been excellent as a whole story arc. And what about Summer and River? Was I wrong to sense sexual tension between them? And yet NOTHING happened! No wonder some reviewers are accusing this novel of queerbaiting.
-All the high-faluting terribly emo conversations between River/Fenrin/Summer either bored me or annoyed me. Teenage dime-store philosophy for no reason other than to presumably sound clever…yawn…
-At times it felt predictable- e.g. I guessed who the LGBT characters were right away.
–The ‘Mean Girls’ style politics of River’s school did not engage me- I felt as if it had been done before, and took away from the ‘magical’ premise. I’ve got no idea why the writer chose to make her only POC, Niral, such a bitch- it would have been good to see a strong, outspoken POC who wasn’t a bully. I also felt like the way mentally-ill Marcus was treated was appalling- I’m not sure what kind of message it was meant to send out. He, like Thalia, was also left abandoned and on the outskirts, marginalized and sidelined over something he couldn’t help.
– I felt that at times it was also a little dull. Did I mention that HARDLY ANYTHING HAPPENS? LEAST OF ALL MAGIC?! (Particularly the scene where River gets a mini-makeover involving henna and a DIY haircut courtesy of Summer. That was too ‘She’s All That’ for me. Oh yeah, and when she goes on and on about getting a weekend job.) Yawnsville.
-One major con was also that, for me, there just wasn’t enough damn magic for a book supposedly about teen witches running riot. Even the spellcasting the Graces (and River) did actually do felt rote and lacking in energy. (No pun intended,) and then they whined for ages about whether or not it worked. No wonder they all felt a bit frustrated by it- even their magic was, frankly, just a bit *sad trombone music* deflated.
So yes, I know, that’s a lot of cons (apologies for the spoilers,) but I expected a different style of writing and more description. Description is my kryptonite- I love it every time. That clearly isn’t River (the narrator’s) style. I hated how scenes just broke off, and all the little hints as to certain characters’ dark pasts, etc. What was the point? NOTHING HAPPENED! ‘Nothing Ever Happens’ by Del Amitri (great band, btw) is probably this book’s theme tune.
Perhaps all the teenage angst and River’s perpetual yearning/scheming just left me eye-rolling too much. I wasn’t sure what her motives were for ‘getting in’ with the Graces– up close, they didn’t seem all that alluring, and, as mentioned, their much-hyped ‘magic’ was completely disappointing. It wasn’t a book that left me enthralled, or even particularly moved. Having said that, I appreciated what Laure Eve is trying to do- I loved the setting, = some of the descriptions and imagery. It had a very ’90s grunge’ vibe. I would be up for reading the sequel, too- ‘The Curses’- although I expect big things from its new narrator, Summer, and even bolder, badder things from Wolf. I’m disappointed because I could tell that Laure Eve is a highly talented author with real skill and a deft hand with words. However, this novel could have been so much better, and it could have had a stronger, more meaningful message. Hopefully there will be more action, more diversity, less angst, and far more magic.
Overall rating: 2 out of 10
Read if you enjoyed: ‘The Darkest Part of the Forest’ by Holly Black (read my review here)
This book in four words: Angsty. Sparse. Slow. Paced.
Diversity checklist: Please don’t use LGBT characters as plot twists!!!! Don’t make them feel ashamed! And then don’t then just make one of them disappear!!! Aaargh!!!
Favourite Character: Wolf
Image from bohoindie on Tumblr