Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Gracekeepers

Title:  The Gracekeepers
Author:  Kirsty Logan
Publication Information:  Crown. 2015. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0553446614 / 978-0553446616

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The first Callanish knew of the Circus Excalibur was the striped silk of their sails against the grey sky."

Favorite Quote:  "Is it really a choice when we have no other option?"

The Gracekeepers tells the tale of a world covered mostly with water, and clearly divided between the "landlockers" and the "damplings." The "landlockers" hold fast to their real and reclaimed land and hold a clear distrust of the "damplings." The "damplings" make their home upon the water and find land to be disturbing and dirty.

The Excalibur is a boat - surrounded by other smaller boats. Together, they are a traveling circus. Members of this circus include Red Gold and his pregnant wife Avalon, Red Gold's son Ainsel, the orphan girl North and her performing bear, and several others. Callanish is the only main character not associated with the circus. She is a gracekeeper - someone living alone on a tiny slip of land responsible for conducting dampling burials at sea. The graces are tiny birds that are part of this ritual- why or how is never really explained.

The Penguin Random House website describes this as a book "for readers of The Night Circus and Station Eleven, a lyrical and absorbing debut set in a world covered by water." Having read and loved both books, I was excited to read this one. The book jacket states that it is inspired by Scottish myths and fairy tales; I loved The Snow Child which is based on a Russian fairy tale. I started this book, fully expecting to love it.

This book is beautifully visual. I find myself in the middle of the vast ocean on a seemingly tiny ship, with the feel of the cold water and the taste of the salt. Interestingly, this picture is not even the reality of the book. The Excalibur circus numbered thirteen members and an assortment of animals, including horses and a bear. The sail is large enough to be a big top. Even knowing this, I am left with the image of a small, worn out, and battered enclave on the wide open, desolate seas.

The book jacket states that it is inspired by Scottish myths and fairy tales. The story fully incorporates the fairy tale elements. Avalon is clearly the wicked stepmother; she is even introduced in the book in a scene where she is eating an apple. Red Gold, the circus master, is in the role of the father and king. Ainsel has the looks of Prince Charming. North is the orphaned child, hoping to find a way out. Callanish is perhaps the princess imprisoned far off from society or perhaps the misunderstood witch.

The story is so much more complex than a fairy tale. A key theme seems to be that not all is as it appears. Red Gold's plans hide a guilt. Ainsel and North do not want to live together happily ever after. Callanish has secrets in her past that lead to her lonely life; she is forever hiding her true self from the world. Performers hide their identity and relationships. Other performers make themselves appear male or female depending on how you look at them. The sail of the Excalibur is also the circus big top. A mysterious and hidden pregnancy exists.

Everything and everyone has layers and hidden meanings. Unfortunately, somewhere, the bigger picture of the story gets lost in the details of its layers. I find myself unable to really associate with or develop an affinity for any of the characters. Overall, I find a sense of sadness but not a compelling reaction to any one character - a lot seems left unexplored in the story.

I leave with a lingering picture of the environment - the water, the cold, the smallness of the land and the boat - more so than the characters or the story.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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