Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley to review.
In the incredibly wealthy land, Briar, luxury and opulence rules. Bordering the kingdom of the Light Fae, as a reward for being a buffer between the rest of the world and the Fae realms Briar was long ago given a gift: some humans in Briar are blessed with Fae magic. Always girls, they are identifiable by their golden eyes and golden blood, which carries their magic in the elixirs they are raised to provide as Graces. Graces live and work in various guild houses, providing their elixirs to anyone who can pay: they are not allowed to refuse, they are not allowed to give away their magic for free, and they are ultimately owned by the Crown. The Graces provide beauty, wealth, and luxury all through their own magic, vying for the honor of moving their House up in rankings or, the ultimate prize, to become a Royal Grace, serving only the royal family.
But for Alyce, The Dark Grace, life is absolute hell. Ugly, bullied and abused all her life, Alyce struggles with her job in Lavender House, because unlike the other Graces Alyce’s magic creates curses. She fills orders for jealous, petty courtiers who want to give their rivals warts, or make them stumble at the wrong moment, or become ill. Alyce has no friends in her House or outside it, until she meets the Crown Princess, Aurora.
For hundreds of years, royal heiresses to the Briar Throne have lived and died under the shadow of a terrible curse: receive True Love’s Kiss before her 21st birthday or die. Aurora’s two older sisters died of the curse, and she wants Alyce’s help to discover how to end the curse without kissing anyone else. And so begins the twisting tale of politics, magic, and true love that turns Sleeping Beauty on it’s head.
Malice occurs in a fully fleshed-out world of petty grievances, dangerous political machinations, and cruelty disguised beneath beauty. Heather Walter created an entire structure for how Graces work, how magic and wealth have rotted a great society from the inside out, and how an unexpected misfit is both tortured and forced into a role she hates. You can’t help but root for Alyce, even when her pain and fear has her making bad choices. It helps that the story is written from Alyce’s voice, so the reader always has the reasons for her actions, even when they result in bad outcomes.
I loved this book. I love re-written fairy tales in general, but this one is exceptional. The backstory alone, which the author doles out as Alyce discovers it through her journey, is wonderfully detailed. Walter put the time and effort into this novel that begs for more stories out of her universe.
My only complaint about this book is it ended with me saying, out loud, “WHAT?? NOOOOOO!” because I was NOT ready for the story to end where it did. I immediately looked for a sequel, which I hope will be coming at some point, because I can’t wait to see how Walter re-writes the next steps in the story. I could spend a lot more time in the universe she created with Malice.
Malice is a wonderful prequel to the Sleeping Beauty story, giving a well-considered, solid background to how Aurora ended up behind a wall of thorns, dead asleep. It’s also a love story, a fantasy adventure full of monsters and magic, and a perfect counter to the fairy tale trope that finding your true love and getting married is all a girl should aspire to do. I highly recommend picking up Malice when it’s available.