Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Bookish Thoughts: The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

The first Callanish knew of the Circus Excalibur was the striped silk of their sails against the gray sky.  ~ Opening of The Gracekeepers



The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan
Crown, 2015
Fantasy; 320 pgs

From the Publisher:
As a Gracekeeper, Callanish administers shoreside burials, sending the dead to their final resting place deep in the depths of the ocean. Alone on her island, she has exiled herself to a life of tending watery graves as penance for a long-ago mistake that still haunts her. Meanwhile, North works as a circus performer with the Excalibur, a floating troupe of acrobats, clowns, dancers, and trainers who sail from one archipelago to the next, entertaining in exchange for sustenance. 
 In a world divided between those inhabiting the mainland ("landlockers") and those who float on the sea ("damplings"), loneliness has become a way of life for North and Callanish, until a sudden storm offshore brings change to both their lives--offering them a new understanding of the world they live in and the consequences of the past, while restoring hope in an unexpected future.  
Inspired in part by Scottish myths and fairytales, The Gracekeepers tells a modern story of an irreparably changed world: one that harbors the same isolation and sadness, but also joys and marvels of our own age.
I fell into The Gracekeepers almost immediately with the beautiful writing, the fairytale quality of the story, and the interesting characters. I was fascinated by the mythical world Kirsty Logan created: a world in which land is scarce and the divide between those who live on land and on the sea is very strict. The novel has a distinct dystopian feel to it. The landlockers are at the top of the hierarchy, with the damplings being more like second class citizens. Neither group trusts the other, and yet it is clear they both need each other to survive. There is an obvious tension in the air, especially as the story unfolds, about the discord between the two sides.

Callanish leads a lonely life, living on an island as a Gracekeeper, laying people to rest in the waters around that island. She often dreams of slipping into the water, feelings of guilt and shame run deep within her. She goes through the motions of her life, performing her duties with little emotion. It isn't until much later in the novel that the reader learns why exactly she left home for such a faraway and isolated place. The author takes her time in revealing that truth. Although, early on we know part of her secret, and that she isn't quite like other landlockers. I felt for Callanish, knowing how difficult it must have been for her keeping such a secret.

As much as I came to care for Callanish and her situation, I favored North, the bear girl, who lived on the sea traveling with the Excalibur Circus. Orphaned as a child, the circus became her family--but even more so her bear whom she performed and lived in close quarters with. Like Callanish, North has a secret of her own she is hiding, unsure of how it will be received. The ringmaster of her circus, Jarrow "Red Gold", has his own plans for her: wanting her to marry his son and live on land. She is torn between her loyalty to him and following her own heart--and yet she knows right from the start what she will choose. North, like Callanish, feels alone and lost. I admire North's strength and the bond she has with her bear.

The story of The Gracekeepers is told through alternating perspectives, not only from North's and Callanish's, the two main characters, but also some of the other circus performers. The reader gets a good feel of each of their motives. Especially in regards to Avalon, Jarrow's pregnant wife, who despises North and everyone else in the circus, and that of Jarrow himself, who I came to feel sorry for as the story unfolded. He wants what is best for his son, knowing circus life isn't for him. Avalon, on the other hand, would rather it be her living on land and will do whatever it takes to make that happen.

Callinish and North meet somewhat by chance, and their initial meeting, brief as it is, sparks something in both of them. It is the catalyst for what is to come and a huge turning point in the story. Their meeting is what finally sets Callanish on her own path for redemption.

This novel held a sort of dream-like quality throughout. The clowns and glamours of the circus certainly gave off that vibe. They were not so much fully fleshed out characters, but rather were more caricature-like--much like you would find in an actual fairytale. I thought the juxtaposition between the military and the revivalists was interesting. Both very similar and yet different just the same. And what I could say about the revivalists! I will spare you.

I liked this book on many levels, and yet a part of me, upon finishing the last page, wished there had been just a little more in terms of world building--although I am not sure that really matters within the scope of the story. I can't help but feel the story would have been richer if certain details about the world the characters lived in was more filled out just the same. But then, perhaps some of that dream-like quality would have been lost.

I have said so little about what this book actually is about, I know.The writing is beautiful.  It is a book that is best experienced. Kirsty Logan really has created an intriguing world with even more intriguing characters. I was swept up into their world and their lives, and it stayed with me a long while after I finished reading. There is a distinct feeling of sadness that runs throughout the book, however, there is also a definite thread of hope, friendship--and redemption. You can bet I cried at the end of this one. 

To learn more about Kirsty Logan, and her books, please visit the author's website.

Source: Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley for an honest review.


 © 2015, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

18 comments:

  1. This sounds interesting; and I'm quite curious of the setting and the characterisations as well. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Wendy.

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    1. Melody - I am glad I took a chance on it! I enjoyed it quite a bit. :-)

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  2. My sister read this book and really liked it but told me she didn't think I would so I got rid of my copy. I'm glad you liked it too.

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    1. Kathy - I am glad to hear your sister liked it too! While there is no magic, it definitely has a fantasy feel to it, which I know is something you don't care for.

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  3. I have this checked out from the library right now and I'll be getting to it soon. Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

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    1. Lindsay - I hope you enjoy it when you read it!

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  4. This sounds absolutely beautiful. It's a bit outside of my norm but that's not a bad thing. I'll definitely have to look for this one - especially now with school starting and I have a chance of stringing more than 2 thoughts together at a time!

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    1. Katherine - It is different than anything I have read before. I loved the writing. I will definitely be following the author to see what else she comes out with and has written.

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  5. I too Ike the setting. The characters also sound intriguing

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    1. Mystica - Callinash and North are worth getting to know. I am glad I read this one.

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  6. I've been waiting to hear more about this book. Book Riot was talking about it a while ago, but I haven't had any success with books that they recommend that aren't recommended by others. But, it sounds like you really enjoyed this one, so I'm going to have to give it a try!

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    1. Melinda - There was a lot I liked about this one. It's a bit different, at least from what I usually read. I know it's gotten a lot of press, and while I don't think I would count this among my favorites for the year, I did enjoy it. Hopefully if you read it, you will enjoy it too.

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  7. The Gracekeepers sounds very good and Callinish sounds like an intriguing character to read about.
    I like writing that has that dreamlike, and even sad quality to it.

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    1. Naida - Callinish is an interesting character. I really felt for her, especially the more of her story I learned.

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  8. I passed over this at NetGalley. Will check to see if it is still available!

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    1. Jenclair - I'd be interested to know what you think of this one if you do read it, Jenclair.

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  9. I've eyed this one, so I enjoyed reading your thoughts!

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    1. Amanda - I hope you like it if you decide to read it!

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