Exclusive Chapter Reveal: Your First Look At 'Grace and Fury' by Tracy Banghart

If you're looking for a new read to add to your ever-growing list, Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart is one you shouldn't miss. Based in a world where women have no rights, the story follows two sisters who are raised in very different environments: one in a palace and the other in prison. It's full of suspense, deception and #girlpower.

Check out Her Campus' exclusive chapter reveal below—we promise you'll be hooked!

The rickshaw driver pedaled madly, undeterred by jarring gaps in the cobbles and wide-eyed pedestrians. All the rocking and bumping unsettled Nomi’s stomach. Or maybe it was the heavy, humid air that smelled of rotting fish.

No. She knew what twisted every muscle and sucked all the breath from her lungs. The closer they got to the palazzo, the more fervently she wished they were heading the other way. It had been less than a fortnight since Signor Pietro had chosen Serina, and the days had skittered by as quickly and painfully as this last, rickety ride.

Nomi winced as Serina’s grip on her arm tightened, her nails digging in as the carriage careened over a small bridge, teetering frighteningly close to the edge. Renzo’s cheeks paled. He took up the entire seat across from them, his long legs folded up like a spider’s to fit in the small space.

Too soon, the rickshaw slammed to a halt at the edge of the grand piazza. Nomi’s stomach gave a sickening lurch.

At the far edge of the teeming square, a wide canal glittered in the sun, dotted with flocks of long black boats. Beyond it, on its own island, the Superior’s palazzo rose into the sky like a golden sunrise. Nomi took a few deep breaths. Under different circumstances, she would have enjoyed seeing Bellaqua. But not like this. Not today.

Renzo shoved some money at their driver before helping Nomi and Serina out of the rickshaw. Nomi’s knees trembled even after she’d made it to solid ground.

“Time to say goodbye,” Renzo said. He was trying to sound strong, but his voice shook. Of course, Serina kept her head bent, the dutiful sister, as he pulled her into a polite, fleeting embrace.

But Nomi would have none of that. She hugged her brother tightly, burying herself in his jacket, breathing in his familiar, reassuring scent. Her legs and stomach settled, but only a little. He would wait in Bellaqua until the announcement. She might see him again in a few hours, or never. She couldn’t bear the uncertainty.

“Should I plan to spirit you two to freedom, if Serina is chosen?” Renzo whispered jokingly, but with an edge to his voice.

If only. Nomi tightened her arms around him before drawing away. They shared an agonized look. “Come on, Nomi,” Serina said quietly. A man in black-andgold livery was holding out a hand to her. With bowed head, she placed her fingers on his arm.

Nomi’s breath seized. She wasn’t ready.

Renzo seemed to understand. With an attempt at a smile, he kissed her cheek and hurried away so she didn’t have to be the one to leave him. The parting cut her like a blade.

“Come on,” Serina murmured again. Reluctantly, Nomi turned to follow her sister through the crowd. The black-and-gold-clad gondolier led them across the piazza to the grand canal, where his gondola bobbed gently with the others. He helped Serina and then Nomi into his boat, settling them onto soft, gold-threaded cushions. All around them, scores of other girls floated over the water in their own gondolas, their colorful dresses marking them as prospects.

The crowd watching the procession of girls laughed and cheered. A child threw handfuls of flowers into the air as Nomi and Serina pushed away from the edge of the canal. Serina smiled at the attention, at the soaring pink petals.

Nomi couldn’t stand her sister’s serene expression. It was so at odds with the turmoil twisting her stomach. She wanted to leap onto shore, run back to Renzo, and flee the city. She wanted to do anything but float toward the Superior’s palace like an unwilling sacrifice to an ancient god. But that was the problem: Serina was willing.

Nomi wiped at her eyes, trying to keep her tears in check. Her other hand grasped their small bag of belongings in a death grip. “What if we never see Renzo again?”

“It’ll be a blessing,” Serina replied. But there was a tremble in her voice. Nomi noted the furrow between her sister’s brows as she stared at the approaching palace, the hint of tension at the corner of her mouth. Maybe she wasn’t as serene as she appeared.

More softly, Serina added, “You know that.” “But I can wish things were different,” Nomi muttered just as the gondola bumped against the rim of the canal. Some of the girls had already disembarked at the base of the steps leading to the Superior’s palazzo. The cypress trees lining the canal were hung with tiny bells that tinkled in the breeze.

As Nomi climbed the massive staircase to the palazzo, the last in a long line of girls in bright, fine dresses, she cursed the Heir waiting at the top. He wouldn’t notice her—or any of the other handmaidens—but her whole life hinged on whether he noticed her sister.

In front of Nomi, Serina floated up the stairs, her waistlength chestnut hair loose and shining. Her gown, an intricate patchwork of different fabrics that their mother had painstakingly made, rippled like water. She betrayed no hint of weariness, no indication that they’d just spent six long days on a shuddering train, a night in a threadbare hotel room, and a day frantically preparing her for the Heir’s ball.

Nomi clutched her bag tighter. She tried not to trip on the marble stairs as she snuck a glance up at the Superior, sickly thin and severe, and his two sons. Malachi, the Heir, wore a white uniform embroidered in gold that accentuated his muscular frame. His broad cheekbones and trim brown hair gave his face a hard edge, but his full lips eased its severity. Even she had to concede he was handsome, if terrifying. He watched his prospective Graces closely, his dark eyes boring into the tops of their heads as they passed.

The younger son, Asa, gazed out toward the canal. His dark hair was longer than his brother’s, and disheveled, as if he frequently ran his hands through it. Nomi should have bowed her head when she reached the men, but she didn’t bother. As she’d expected, no one noticed her. All three stared at Serina’s gleaming hair and swaying hips as she passed. Sometimes it irked Nomi, the way Serina drew every gaze. But this time, Nomi was happy to be invisible. She didn’t envy her sister’s task or the weight of the Superior’s icy glare.

When Nomi reached the shade of the veranda, out of sight of the men, she relaxed a fraction. The prospective Graces and their handmaidens proceeded into an ornate gallery with a set of heavy carved wooden doors at its end.

Nomi and Serina picked a spot next to the wall.

“Let me check your makeup one more time,” Nomi said. As much as she wished she were anywhere else, she still had a job to do. They both did.

“What do you think of our chances?” Serina murmured, glancing sidelong at the nearest girl, whose handmaiden was rearranging her vivid orange gown.

Nomi was tempted to tell Serina what she really thought: that they should leave, right now, without a word. That they should go back to Lanos, or better yet, somewhere else entirely, somewhere they could decide what they wanted to do all day, instead of Nomi’s endless chores and Serina’s hours of training in etiquette and dancing. But Nomi knew the truth as well as Serina did: A place like that didn’t exist. No matter where they went, their choices were the same: They could be factory workers, or servants, or wives. Unless Serina became a Grace.

In Viridia, Graces were held as the highest standard of beauty, elegance, and obedience. What all little girls were meant to aspire to.

For Nomi and Serina, becoming a Grace and a handmaiden was a ticket to a different life, but in this they disagreed: Serina believed this different would be better, and Nomi did not.

“I think we’re going to lose something either way,” Nomi said as she rubbed out a tiny smudge of kohl at the corner of Serina’s eye.

“Don’t say that,” Serina said warningly. “Don’t—”

“Don’t think about you parading before the Heir, a possession for him to own?” she whispered. She smoothed a section of Serina’s hair, her hands trembling. She and her sister both had brown hair, olive skin, and their mother’s high cheekbones. But somehow, their shared features combined to make Serina as rich and lovely as Nomi was slight and inelegant. Serina was extraordinary; Nomi was not.

“It’s not about becoming his possession, it’s about winning his admiration and desire,” Serina said through an artificial smile, for the benefit of the girls who’d glanced their way. “This is our chance to have a better life.”

“What makes it better?” Nomi shook her head. Anger surged uselessly in her chest. “Serina, we shouldn’t have to—”

Serina stepped even closer. “Smile at me, like you’re happy. Like you’re just like the rest of these girls.”

Nomi stared into her sister’s eyes. Serina was so beautiful like this, with anger staining her cheeks. She was so much more interesting when she wasn’t strapping herself into a corset and a demure, downcast grin.

The hushed murmurs of the prospects and their handmaidens died down suddenly, as a woman stepped onto a small raised dais at the far end of the room. Her gown of cream silk highlighted her refined, statuesque air. “My name is Ines. I am the Head Grace.” The woman’s words were soft as a song. “The Heir is honored that you have journeyed so far. He regrets that he can only choose three of you to remain. But be assured, you are all blessed.”

Nomi had always found it odd that Superiors and their Heirs chose three Graces every three years, rather than one a year. Then again, the choosing did consume the whole country, with magistrates spending months observing their province’s prospects, and the Superior organizing balls and other events to show off the new Graces once they were chosen.

The current Superior had nearly forty Graces now. But rumors swirled about his health, and this year he had announced no plans to choose Graces for himself. Instead, the Heir would make his first choice. Many assumed this meant the Superior would soon step aside and allow the Heir to rule Viridia in his place.

“The ball is about to begin,” Ines said, her thick gold bangles clinking as she raised her hands. “Prospects, it’s time.”

Serina hugged Nomi tightly. “Be good,” she admonished.

“It’s not me I’m worried about,” Nomi replied, holding on to her sister just as tightly.

One by one, the girls were announced, the doors to the ballroom opening and closing between them. When Serina’s moment came, two of the Superior’s men pulled the massive doors wide, exposing the swirling brightness within. A deep voice stated, “Serina Tessaro, of Lanos.” Without a backward glance, Serina stepped into the light.

Nomi’s heart did a painful flip when her sister disappeared from view.

She placed her bag against the wall where the other handmaidens had left their things and stood awkwardly in the corner. Some of the girls grouped themselves on the balcony to talk. The rest sank into chairs or meandered around, taking in their opulent surroundings.

The walls pressed in on her, the gilt and sparkle heavy as iron. Everything was so different from home. She’d only been gone a week, but she already missed waking up to the sound of Renzo gathering his books for the long walk to school. Missed the stolen moments after her chores were done, when she could sit and rest without Mama scolding her. Missed the taste of the sharp, snow-edged wind at twilight, knowing the world would look entirely different by morning. Even the groaning pipes and tiny soot-crusted windows of their family’s apartment on Factory Row.

A part of her desperately hoped they would be sent home. That she could return to their small, shabby apartment. But she knew that would only delay the inevitable separation from her family.

It struck her that she might spend the rest of her days like this: trapped in a beautiful room waiting for Serina to return, her own life a footnote. Unremarkable. Invisible. Forgotten.

Her eyes burned with unshed tears. She glanced around, self-conscious, but no one was paying attention to her. Maybe if she splashed some cold water on her face, took a moment to herself, she’d feel better. She made her way out into the hallway in search of the lavatory. With each step, the tightness in her chest lessened.

As Nomi rounded a corner, the interior of a room caught her eye. Deep upholstered chairs, a finely patterned rug. And endless bookcases of rich mahogany, stacked toweringly high with bound volumes edged in gold. Books. More than she’d ever seen in her life. Before Nomi could fully grasp what she was doing, she strode toward the room. She paused outside the half-open door for as long as she dared, listening for movement. Then, with a deep breath, she slipped inside.

The whole world opened up before her. Rows and rows of bookshelves climbed to the ceiling. The scent of pipe smoke hung thick in the air. Nomi breathed deeply, letting the room’s stillness, its promise, wash over her. On trembling legs, she sidled up to the shelves and ran tingling fingers across the thick leather spines. The gold-leaf titles shone in the low light. She traced the words, many of them unfamiliar to her. Her hand caught on a slight volume nearly swallowed between two thick black tomes. She gasped in recognition. The Legends of Viridia.

Immediately, a memory rose in her mind. The autumn Nomi and Renzo had turned twelve, he was given this same book of legends to study, and she’d demanded to know what it said.

It was against the law for women to read. It was against the law for women to do almost anything, really, except birth babies and toil in factories and clean the houses of rich men.

But Nomi couldn’t let it go. And Renzo couldn’t resist showing off what he knew. Slowly, surely, he had taught her to read.

It had been the best few months of Nomi’s life. They’d spent their nights hunched by a guttering candle as Nomi haltingly read and reread the story of the moon and her lover, the terrors of the deep, and—her favorite—the tale of two brothers driven apart by a mysterious tattooed woman with a golden eye. Only Serina knew their secret. Renzo once asked if she wanted to learn too. But Serina preferred to be read to, the same stories over and over, while she practiced her embroidery. When spring had come and Renzo’s school had exchanged the book of legends for one of math equations, Nomi and Serina had continued to tell each other the stories from memory. But it was never quite the same.

She drew the book from the shelf, caressing the embossed letters on the cover. It was made of the same soft leather, only without the battered corners and bent cover. She hugged the book to her, remembering every night she and her brother had pored over the pages, teasing out the pronunciation and meaning of each word.

This book was home to her, more than the palazzo and its fine furnishings could ever be.

She couldn’t bear to leave it behind. Surely no one would miss a small book of stories. It slipped down the front of her dress so quickly, so easily, she could almost convince herself it had been the book’s desire, not her own. She hurried into the corridor, arms crossed protectively over her chest.

She was nearly back to the gallery when two men rounded the corner right in front of her.

The Heir and his brother.

Nomi bowed her head and waited for them to pass, arms tightening over the hidden book.

“—should be up to me, not the magistrates,” the Heir was saying, anger edging his words. He stopped speaking when he saw her.

Nomi should have curtsied. She should have kept her head down, like any other handmaiden. But she was caught off guard, unprepared, and without meaning to, she met his gaze.

The Heir’s eyes were deep brown and held a silent intensity. He stared at her as if he could puzzle out her history, her secret hopes, everything. With one look, he laid her bare.

Cheeks burning, she finally tore her gaze away.

“Who are you?” Malachi demanded.

“Nomi Tessaro,” she murmured.

“And what exactly are you doing here, Nomi Tessaro?” The Heir’s voice filled with suspicion.

Nomi bowed her head. “I’m—I’m a handmaiden. I was just . . .” Her voice petered out. She couldn’t remember what she was supposed to have been doing. The book burned through her skin.

“Come on, Malachi, we’re late,” Asa said, running an impatient hand through his hair. His black suit shadowed Malachi’s white one, down to the gold embroidery, but there was something more relaxed, almost untidy about him.

Malachi ignored his brother and stepped closer to Nomi, his muscled frame trapping her against the wall. “You were just what?”

The attempt at intimidation had the opposite effect. Nomi bristled, a familiar, instinctive fury momentarily squashing her panic.

Her spine straightened. She lifted her chin and faced the Heir’s steely gaze with one of her own. Defiance radiated from her in waves. “I was using the lavatory,” she said clearly. “It’s just there,” she added, nodding toward the other end of the hall, “if you need to go.”

Asa snorted, but the Heir did not look amused. His cheeks flushed an angry red.

Horror rose, bitter at the back of Nomi’s throat. She dropped her gaze. Serina had asked her to behave. And she couldn’t, not even for ten minutes. The audacity of what she’d just said . . . the expression the Heir had no doubt seen in her eyes. . . .

“You may go,” Malachi said at last, but it sounded more like a sentence than a reprieve. Nomi scurried into the gallery as the men continued on their way, her heart beating a panicked rhythm. The sharp edges of the book she’d stolen dug into her skin.

She hurried to the corner where she’d left her bag, and slipped the book in among her things. She was almost certain the Heir hadn’t seen it. But her impertinence had been damning enough.

The rest of the evening she waited, eyes pinned to the open doorway, wondering when her world would end.

Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart will be released on July 31, and is available for pre-order here.