Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

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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.
Wow, what a beautiful, haunting novel. I had a feeling I was going to fall in love with The Gracekeepers, from its gorgeous cover to the fascinating synopsis pulling me in. As some of you would probably agree, the quality of the characters can make or break a book. I'm happy to say that the characters you meet in this book do not disappoint.

There are two main, clear protagonists, Callanish and North. Callanish is a gracekeeper who lays the dead damplings (those that live at sea) to rest. She used to be a landlocker (someone who lives on the land), but due to some events in her past she has exiled herself to an island. North is part of a floating circus, where her act is performing with her trained bear. She lost her parents in a rather tragic accident and the circus and its performers are all she has ever known. Both she and Callanish harbor secrets that could change their lives forever, and this forms an unbreakable bond between them. There are a lot of supporting characters here: the ringmaster, Jarrow (or Red Gold as North calls him); Jarrow's cruel, pregnant wife, Avalon; the acrobats, fire breather, horse performer, messengers, and gracekeepers. It would be impossible to go over them all in this review. They were all very important to the story in their own ways. 

The book is written in third-person point of view, and I really enjoyed how the author chose to change the voice frequently. It was like opening a window into each of the characters' lives. Some of the supporting characters were given a voice as well and that doesn't happen very often.The chapters were labeled as to which character's story was being told, so it was never confusing. This method helped me understand each of them more completely, for better or worse. I even held some compassion for the characters I despised after learning the motivations behind their actions.

As eerie and morbid as it may seem, I found the graceyard setting oddly beautiful. When the dead were put in their final resting place below the water, Callanish would place a caged bird (a grace) on top of the body. When the grace died, the loved ones knew it was time to move on and stop grieving. I just wish it were that simple, but we all know that there is no time table on grief. Three years later and my heart still hurts from losing my mom, and I know it always will. I really liked one quote in particular, when North was talking to Callanish about someone she knew who died. She began talking about him as if he was still alive, and then she remembered.

She stopped. She knew that ______ wasn't coming back, but also he must be coming back. It didn't make sense otherwise. (pg. 96 of The Gracekeepers - I used "____" in place of the character's name to avoid spoilers)

That passage spoke to me so much. It is exactly how I felt right after my mom passed away; it was sudden and I just couldn't believe that she wasn't going to walk through the door. I knew she was gone and I'd never see her again. Of course I did; we all understand how death works. Yet in those moments, and even to this day sometimes, I feel like she will come home. And the heartbreak starts all over again.

There were many sources of conflict, from arranged marriages to past mistakes, but underneath it all was the huge divide between the damplings and the landlockers. From what I understood, water had covered a lot of the land and sunk some cities, leaving fewer areas left to be inhabited. Those that lived on land looked down on the sea dwellers because they didn't worship the same gods. They didn't even want them setting foot on their soil for the most part, which is why the circus was performed on a ship. This fairly strict segregation continued through most of the story, but at the end there was a glimmer of hope for the future.

 I'm not sure if The Gracekeepers will be a stand-alone book or part of a series; it could go either way I suppose. All I know is this is one of the best novels I've read this year. The author had a beautiful way of painting both the setting and the characters; the lovely wording is very reminiscent of one of my favorites, The Chemical Garden series by Lauren DeStefano. This is the first time I've heard of author Kirsty Logan, but I sincerely hope it won't be the last because she has a real gift for the written word. I look forward to reading more from her in the future.


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.
KIRSTY LOGAN is an award-winning writer based in Scotland. She regularly performs her stories at events and festivals around the UK and Europe. The Gracekeepers is her debut novel. You can visit her website, or connect with her on Twitter or Facebook.

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