Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Gracekeepers

The sea has flooded the earth. The people have split themselves up into damplings, the lower class who live on boats and go from place to place, and landlockers, the upper class who have permanent housing on land. Callanish Sand is a landlocker and a Gracekeeper, one who dedicates their solitary and simple life to laying the dead to rest by the seashore. There's something special about her that she hides from the world and her past weighs heavily on her. North is a dampling who works in a floating, traveling circus doing different acts with her bear. She and her troupe travel from archipelago to archipelago, entertaining to survive. The ringmaster of the circus has plans for North that she simply doesn't want for herself and she sees no way out of it. Callanish's and North's worlds collide and both of their lives will never be the same.

The Gracekeepers is a beautiful book that mixes fairy tale imagery and whimsy with soft science fiction. In the far future, the sea has encroached upon the land and only a privileged few called landlockers are allowed to reside on its remaining spaces. The rest of the population called damplings simply lives on boats in a more nomadic life that is looked down upon. Landlockers hate and fear damplings. Damplings are stereotyped to be morally degenerate thieves according to landlockers, but this doesn't stop the landlockers from using them to their own ends for work or entertainment. Resources are scarce for all and it leads to very strained times. The floating circus Excaliber has to gauge the attitudes of the archipelagos they go to or suffer not being paid and possibly be attacked or thrown in jail. These gritty realities gave the novel a sense of realism and contrasted well with the whimsy and fairy tale elements.

Kirsty Logan creates memorable, nuanced characters to populate this futuristic world. Each chapter is from a different character's point of view. North is a desperate girl trapped in her circus with no way to escape her impending nuptials to a self absorbed idiot named Ainsel. She loves performing, the bear she trains, and the other performers, but the ringmaster Red Gold has made it clear she is no longer welcome there if she refuses to marry his son. Her pregnancy that isn't from Ainsel also complicates things. I like that North is realistic about her situation, but does what she can to try to change it. Her circus is wonderful and my favorite part of the novel, but isn't without sadness and hardship. Callanish's world couldn't be more different. She lives by herself with the barest of supplies and lays the dead to rest. The graces she keeps are birds meant to commemorate each dead person. They aren't fed and the ceremony is over when the bird dies. Callanish was exiled there as punishment and she feels guilt every day for what she did. She decides to leave her home and try to atone for her mistakes. Both characters experience their own belonging, loneliness, guilt, fear, and finally joy. I loved how their worlds collided and how they influenced each other. Even the smaller characters are well fleshed out. Avalon, the jealous and horrible wife of Red Gold, simply wants a house and a family. Her route to get them is morally questionable and pretty awful, but many can relate. Even Flitch, the man who escapes with Callanish, truly cares about her underneath his condescension and annoying behavior. It's easy to relate to each character and understand their motivations.

The Gracekeepers moves pretty slowly, but I enjoyed it. It was like descending slowly into and savoring the world. The fairy tale elements seem to be drawn from kelpies, which are Scottish water spirits, that do appear in the story. Parallels can also be drawn to other types of sea dwelling fairy tale creatures. The novel was wonderful to read and I look forward to what Kirsty Logan writes next. I would definitely recommend to people who enjoyed Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins


Beth W said...

Thanks for your review! I've been curious about this one, given the blurb and cover, but yours is the first review I've read of it. It sounds lovely!

Amy Aelleah said...

Sounds like an interesting book. I never even heard of it before now, so thanks for drawing it to my attention. Sounds unique and I really am curious now that you've mentioned kelpies.

Misty said...

Hmm, I hadn't heard of this one actually! Gonna have to look into it. =)