A Different Kind of Chosen One in ‘Grace’

The Chosen One is a staple of the fantasy genre, especially in YA, but it’s the attempts to contort or subvert it that I tend to find the most compelling. Emily Thiede stretches the trope like silly putty in her debut, This Vicious Grace.

Alessa was chosen by Dea to be this generation’s bearer of a strange and powerful magic. As the Finestra, Alessa needs to learn how to harness it, then pair up with a lesser magic-bearer, called a Fonte, and together defeat a swarm of insect-like demons destined to attack her island home of Saverio. Unfortunately, Alessa has killed three Fontes now, and time is running short. Not just before the demons strike, but before the people of Saverio are losing faith in their Finestra, and more than one person believes killing Alessa will prompts Dea to choose a new, and less deadly, Finestra.

After a few near misses, Alessa hires Dante as her private bodyguard. Sarcastic, cynical, and exceptionally hot, Dante annoys Alessa, but he also does his job well—and he turns out to be more than meets the eye. But as Alessa auditions a new bunch of Fontes for her next victim—uh, partner—the threats grow closer and closer to home. She has always followed the rules and done her best to be a good Finestra, but she realizes that some rules are meant to be broken.

There are plenty of reluctant Chosen Ones, and plenty of Chosen Ones facing impossible odds. What I enjoyed most about Alessa was how much of a failure she was at being the Chosen One, no matter how hard she tried. This is different from heroines being “awkward” or “clumsy,” which they typically say they are while still managing to attract the attention of the hottest thing around. Alessa, on the other hand, is skilled, and while she’s not always the most silver-tongued person in the room, she’s also capable enough with speech and diplomacy to fulfill her role. She is sincere but scared, and every failure makes her less sure of herself. The lesson she ultimately learns is one I wish I knew in high school or in the early days of college: that being a perfect version of someone or something else only means she’s suppressing herself—and all the unique qualities she can use to solve the problem at hand. 

The problems she has to solve are many, and the stakes are high, as one would expect from any situation requiring a Chosen One. While Alessa might not have the typical hero’s journey, there are plenty of tropes that Thiede lets play out as expected. From the moment Dante sets foot on the page, for example, there is no doubt that he is the love interest. I don’t care how many times we’re told Alessa can never possibly touch him without killing him, and that she must marry a Fonte, love finds a way.

Ned and Chuck, the main characters from Pushing Daisies, are shown kissing through a piece of plastic wrap, as Ned's power to resurrect his crush Chuck will reverse and leave her dead again if they have more skin-to-skin contact.
Have Alessa and Dante tried using plastic wrap? Does Saveiro have plastic wrap?

There are, of course, plenty of colorful side-characters, but it’s the futuristic, magic-steeped, demon-blighted Italy Theide has crafted that is, at times, the real star of the show. The pages are speckled with Italian phrases, gelato and Italian pastries, and descriptions that are almost enough for me to forget there’s a blizzard raging just outside my window. “The whine of insects succumbed to the creak of ships … If the city was a four-course meal for the senses, the docks were a hearty stew,” Theide writes, and, later, “The rocks became pebbles, pebbles became sand, and Dante waited as she slipped off her shoes, toes sinking into the slowly fading warmth of the sand. The ocean shushed them while the city sang above as she stretched her legs to match his stride, shoes dangling from her fingertips like earrings.”

Mm. Ocean.

The focus of the story is on the leadup to battle, with that final event coming at the tail end of the story and taking up just four chapters out of fifty-seven. The aftermath takes up little space, too, and wraps things up a little pat. But only a little, because it has to set things up for the sequel, This Cursed LIght. While that sounds critical, also note that I am already penciling This Cursed Light in for next year’s TBR. Wherever Alessa goes next, I’ll follow.

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