The Gracekeepers – Kirsty Logan
As a Gracekeeper, Callanish administers shore-side 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.
Review: I was looking for a dystopian novel that is a little different from the norm. I definitely found one.
In a world that is controlled by a corrupt military and almost entirely covered by ocean, Callanish and North are hiding secrets. Callanish’s secret got her banished to a “graceyard,” a shore-side cemetery where she works as a caretaker. North is a bear trainer on a circus boat, but she could lose her job if her secret is discovered. Callanish and North meet after a tragedy and quickly form a bond that changes both of their lives.
First, we have to talk about that cover. I think it’s beautiful. It captures the lonely, slightly eerie atmosphere of the novel.
The worldbuilding in this book is insane. It’s vivid, complex, and very detailed. The story is told from alternating points-of-view, so the reader gets to see life on land and at sea. There is a conflict between the land-dwellers and the sea-dwellers, and some characters will do anything to live on one of the world’s few remaining islands.
One interesting aspect of this book is how gender and deformation are handled. Many of the characters are circus performers. For their acts, they dress androgynously, and no one can be sure of their genders. Some of the characters in this world may not even be completely human.
Callanish’s physical deformity is also handled in an intriguing way. She has to keep it hidden so that she isn’t murdered by the superstitious people who live on her island, but the deformity is a big part of her identity. It actually ends up saving people instead of cursing them.
This book has some amazing elements (the worldbuilding), but it still disappointed me a little. I think it’s because the book doesn’t feel like it’s plot-driven or character-driven. Is it possible for a book to be world-driven? A lot of little things happen in the plot, but there isn’t a lot of action or suspense. The plot is pretty flat. Usually I’m fine with slower plots if the characters are interesting, but these characters are only interesting on the surface. I never connected with any of them. I don’t know much about their backstories. Their cultures and lifestyles are interesting, but they lack personality and depth.
I came away from this book feeling like the author had created one of the most gorgeous fictional worlds I’ve ever encountered, but nothing happens in the world. I had a hard time staying interested in this novel because I was reading it for the worldbuilding alone.
The Gracekeepers was a bit of a let-down, but the writing is excellent. I would love to read more of Kirsty Logan’s work. I’ll keep an eye out for her short story collections.