Saturday 19 February 2022

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Review: Extasia by Claire Legrand (#Ad)

A photo taken from above of Extasia by Claire Legrand half on a burgandy fabric in the top left of the photo, and half on a light grey duvet in the bottom right of the photo. The book is at a diagonal, so the top of the book faces the top right corner of the photo, and the bottom of the book faces the bottom right. Under the top right corner of the book is a black journal with a embossed gold design. Under the bottom right corner of the book is a ornante silver oval mirror. Coming up from the bottom of the photo at a diagonal, pointing top right, is a belt, with the buckle resting on the bottom of the book. On the top right corner of the book is an ornate, old-fashioned key pendant. Crossng the top left corner of the book, hanging off the top and left of the book, is a black handled letter opener.

I was sent this proof for free by Harper360YA for the purposes of providing an honest review.

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Extasia by Claire Legrand

Published: 3rd March 2022 | Publisher: Harper360 | Source: Publisher
Claire Legrand’s Website

A must-read for fans of Victoria Schwab and Elana K. Arnold, this terrifying YA standalone from New York Times bestselling author Claire Legrand follows a girl who joins a coven to protect her village from a powerful religious cult.

Her name is unimportant.

All you must know is that today she will become one of the four saints of Haven. The elders will mark her and place the red hood on her head. With her sisters, she will stand against the evil power that lives beneath the black mountain—an evil that has already killed nine of her village’s men.

She will tell no one of the white-eyed beasts that follow her. Or the faceless gray women tall as houses. Or the girls she saw kissing in the elm grove.

Today she will be a saint of Haven. She will rid her family of her mother’s shame at last and save her people from destruction. She is not afraid. Are you?

Claire Legrand, author of Sawkill Girls, returns with an emotionally searing and lyrically written novel that beckons readers to follow its fierce heroine into a world filled with secrets and blood—where the truth is buried in lies and a devastating power waits, seething, for someone brave enough to use it.
From The StoryGraph.

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I have been really excited to read Extasia by Claire Legrand ever since it was first announced. I absolutely adored Sawkill Girls and how terrifying it was, so there was no doubt I would read Legrand's next horror novel. And as I expected, it was bloody brilliant!

Many years ago, in The World That Once Was, disease followed by war wiped out the majority of the population. Only a few survived. These few were saved by God, who spoke to them, and told them of a new way to live; if only they do as He says, there was a way to prosper and survive, a life without sin, a life of worship. He directed them to a place where they could build anew, a village named Haven. But evil still lurked in the world. The Devil that lives under the mountain. The only way to protect themselves from this evil, God told them, were the Saints. God would speak to the Elders of Haven, speaking the names of four girls yet to bleed, to be their Saints. They would keep the town safe from sin, by allowing them to unleash their anger and lustful depravities upon the Saints. They will keep the people of Haven of good, and pious, and safe.
Today, she will be anointed as a Saint, and named Amity. The day she has long been waiting for since her mother shamed the family five years ago in her sin. She will restore her family's honour. She will be Godly and good, and gladly take whatever the people of Haven land upon her during visitation. And she will defeat the Devil, who has taken the lives of nine Haven men, in gruesome and mysterious ways. She knows a story, one her mother once told her, of relics that call on the Devil. She will find these relics, and she will face the Devil and defeat him.
When her fellow Saints, Temperance and Mercy, talk of women living in the woods, women with power, Amity follows. Confused as to who these women are and where they come from, as the people of Haven are the only ones who survived The World That Once Was, Amity decides she will learn what she can of this power, this Extasia, and hope it helps her find the relics and defeat the Devil.

This book. This book! Extasia had me raging like you wouldn't believe. Right from the get go, we learn very quickly about the world, the religious fervour of the people of Haven, and Amity's excitement and pride at becoming a Saint, knowing until the day she bleeds, she will be subjected to the town's violence and worse. We quickly learn of the attitude towards women, who were of course responsible for the destruction of The World That Once Was because of their deceit and lustful, sinful ways. We learn it is the men who have the power, and that everyone has been brainwashed from birth that the way of the town is right and is good, and is how they are kept safe from the Devil. Extasia reminded me very strongly of elements of The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, and The Grace Year by Kim Liggett, with a little of Impossible Causes by Julie Mayhew - and though I've not yet read it, I think there will probably be similarities with The Seawomen by Chloe Timms. Haven is extremely cult-like, without anyone knowing they're living in a cult. Amity's belief and conviction is heartbreaking and unbelievably disturbing as we see exactly what it is she is expected to endure. I got so extremely angry very, very quickly.

I was reminded very much of how Puritans are shown on TV and films, not just their faith, but the way they speak - the ways Amity thinks, and narrates the story. Then she meets the witches living in the woods, and these women speak like contemporary people, and the juxtaposition of the two, the Saints and the Coven, and their conversations is startling but brilliant. Slowly, slowly, Amity learns that things aren't necessarily as they seem. Haven obviously have got things wrong somewhere, because according to the Coven, there are small villages all over. It's strange, but it's not important. What is important is that the men of Haven are continually killed in more alarming and inexplicable ways. Amity's focus is on trying to save her people. And if it means sneaking out and meeting with these women and learning what she can in order to get the relics to face the Devil, then so be it.

Amity is seeing animals with white eyes, with patchy feathers or furs, looking like they're rotting. She's also seeing strange, giant grey women with only gaping mouths in their heads. Despite that, when we learn what's going on, they're not exactly things to be frightened of. Extasia wasn't the story I expected, considering it's a horror. There wasn't anything scary about this book for me, it felt more like a dystopian fantasy. I would have liked to have been scared by Extasia as I was by Sawkill Girls. But it is very much a horrifying story. It's disturbing and unsettling, sinister and uncomfortable, and completely messed up, and I felt very much like I do when I watch The Handmaid's Tale, when they've found another atrocious thing to do to women. But my main feeling throughout Extasia overwhelming anger, and had be screaming on social media that I hoped Amity would end up burning Haven right down to the ground.

It's incredible to see the change in Amity, as she learns more, as she witnesses things she never would have expected, and reacts to them in ways she never would have expected. She starts to question everything. She starts to consider what is truly important to her, what truly needs protecting. It's like a spark that falls on a trail of oil, the flame that follows its path, inching its way closer to the source, until it finally reaches the source, and explodes into a devastating inferno. That's what it's like watching Amity learn, and question, and finally has her eyes opened. Her rage is all-consuming, and it's beautiful. Hell hath no fury like a woman who is awakened to the truth. Her rage matched my own, and I reveled in it. There is a very sweet, very quiet sapphic romance in Extasia, and becomes one of very few lights in Amity's life, something that balances out the anger, and reminds her of her softness when her razor sharp edges.

I was very much reminded of the last few episodes of season four of The Handmaid's Tale, of June's anger, of her talking in the group of women who had escaped Gilead, and asking why they had to move beyond anger. A friend told me that the final episode, the way the season ended, had made June less sympathetic to him, whereas I felt completely the opposite. I was right there with June, internally screaming, "YES!" as that episode came to a close, relishing in the justice she enacted. That righteous anger is what Amity feels, and what guides her. Extasia is fiction, but it reflects aspects of the real world, of the misogyny and violence that women experience everyday, and Amity's anger is brightly burning, and universal.

The story took a turn I wasn't at all expecting, and it knocked me for six. Such a twist, and so much more anger and distgust! It's the final straw for Amity, and she knows what needs to be done, and she takes no prisoners. But, considering how the story ended, I might personally be a little more like Mercy than Amity, but the ending was brilliant. Had I been Amity, I think it might have taken me a little longer to get to where Amity ends up. But I also feel like there couldn't have been a better ending. And I completely adored the epilogue, and how there's a possibility of a sequel or companion novel.

As a woman living in this world, who has experienced as well as heard the violence we are subjected to, Extasia is a story that is very close to my heart. It's powerful, and important, and necessary. And it also made me feel incredibly seen, that the anger I feel is valid and an understandable reaction to everything. It's something I take a huge amount of comfort in. Though, as Legrand reminds me through Amity, it's what we do with that anger that counts.

Thank you to Harper360 for the proof.

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