I’m a sucker for mysterious and mystical book covers, so you can probably see why the cover for The Gracekeepers by award-winning author Kirsty Logan drew me in like a moth to a flame. Why on earth were bird cages sitting on the water? I had to find out. When I read the publisher’s description, it intrigued me even more and I’m so glad it did. This novel is mystical and magical, a unique haunting fairy tale of loss and love for grownups set in a possible future. What if the oceans rose as the polar ice caps melted, the earth flooded, and those floods never receded? How would we adapt and how would our lives change over time? I’m hosting a pay-it-forward giveaway for the advance copy I received, which one of you will win, so be sure to enter our giveaway!
This novel is about two young women; North, who has always lived and performed with a seafaring circus, and Callanish, who grew up on land but is now a gracekeeper. But I’m getting ahead of myself because to talk about these young women, we have to know a bit more about their world.
It’s a world that may not look like our world but it once was our world. But it stopped looking like our world a long enough time ago that there’s not much memory of the once thriving cities that now lie buried beneath the sea. There are rumors about ancient ruins under the sea but that’s about it for most folks. This world is comprised almost entirely of water. The stories say the oceans rose and swallowed the land, leaving only tiny atolls scattered behind.
The world is now divided into two populations, those who live on land and are called landlockers and those who live on the seas and are called damplings. Landlockers have no respect for damplings, clinging to very strict faith doctrines that look with strong suspicion on anything different from its edicts. They can’t imagine living on the sea and cling to what little land they have left.
Damplings are a more freewheeling group, who know and embrace the risks associated with trying to survive on an ever changing ocean. They range from circuses to traders to pirates, and everything in between. They provide vital services and entertainment for the landlockers even though the landlockers look down upon them. They in turn look down upon the landlockers. After all, how boring must it be to live in one place all the time, to live in fear of angering whatever god figure they’re told controls their lives, and to be so terrified of taking any kind of risk?
So we have two polar opposite groups of people, each interdependent on the other for their survival. And in those groups we have two very different young women.
This animation is about a time when both young women were still children…
North has always lived in this circus. Her parents were performers with trained bears, until one night when something went horribly wrong. She grew up with a bear cub, with whom she has performed since she was a small child. He has been her only family, other than her quasi-family of performers. Now she’s hiding something that could destroy that life if it becomes known, so obviously she’s desperate to keep it hidden as long as possible while she tries to figure out what to do. And, to make matters worse, the circus owners wants her to marry their son – a son she despises for good reason.
“Between sets, North peeped out from behind the curtains to get a look at the crowd. As ever on the islands, the men and women were separate, with all the children on the women’s side. She looked for the subtle signs that they’d identify with the Circus Excalibur’s gender-play: women with shorn hair, men sitting close enough to touch. Nothing. Still, the more conservative the island was, the more the landlockers might be desperate for subversion. The small, fenced-off section reserved for damplings was full to overflowing; North could only hope that they weren’t from a revival boat.”
Callanish grew up on land with her mother but never felt like she belonged. She had a deformity that her mother hid from their fellow villagers, a deformity which would have cost Callanish her life if it had become known. One day Callanish made a huge life-altering mistake, and she knew she had to do penance for that mistake somehow. That is when she became a gracekeeper, so now she lives a life of isolation as her penance. She is horribly lonely with only her birds to talk to. Yet she sees no other way for her.
On a world that is mostly water, the damplings can’t bury their dead on land but they must be honored. Gracekeepers perform that delicate, necessary service from their little isolated islands, where the dead are laid to rest in shallow watery graves, marked by the graces – special birds bred to live only a short time in cages atop the graves. When the bird dies, the family knows the loved one has moved on and their grieving can end. An evolved ritual for an evolved world.
“The morning slipped by in silence, broken only by the shift and coo of the graces. Callanish sat on the front porch of the house, perched on the edge, feet tucked under so they wouldn’t touch the water. In the distance ships passed, tiny as toys… She knew fish had to eat something…there was no point in being squeamish about it. But it was different when you had seen the bodies, when you knew their names, when you had laid them to rest with your own hands…Sometimes, she could almost laugh: surrounded by a fish-rich sea, she had enough food and water to last her a lifetime, but she could have none of it.”
“Ships rarely came back to check anyway; the birds were bred to be tiny and they could not live long, caged without food or fresh water. Callanish didn’t feel bad about feeding the graces. It was such a small crime.”
When one of the circus performers dies unexpectedly while the troop is at sea, their caravan of tiny boats pulls into Callanish’s tiny island during a storm so their fellow performer can be buried in grace. And that is when Callanish meets North, and they discover their respective secrets by accident. But they are quickly parted even though they both feel the need to stay connected somehow. Will they ever even see each other again? Can they survive alone with no support and not knowing how to escape their self imposed prisons?
Callanish feels completely trapped by who she is and why she has become a gracekeeper. North feels the same way for different reasons. Neither of them knows any other way to be, or even that another way of being is possible. Yet both have secrets that compel them to look outside of what they’ve always known…and both are far stronger than they know.
I was spellbound by the mysterious and mystical world on The Gracekeepers. It is at once a strange yet also a familiar world. It is interwoven with threads (some good and some not so good) that are clearly recognizable as Earth and human nature. At the same time, it has had to evolve as the physical world has altered so dramatically. We’ve read a lot about what might happen if the polar ice caps melt completely and/or if Earth’s axis tilts. This is a fantasy scenario of what could happen if things got Noah’s ark-style extreme. It is definitely a fairy tale, with many magical elements I haven’t gone into to avoid spoilers and with great resistance to and fear of those magical elements by some…a hint without going too far I hope. It is not just a magical story but a human one – a story of love and loss, of friendship, and of finding a way to make the world work for you. And that’s something we can all relate to. If you like fantasy novels with a bit of dystopia thrown in, I’m betting you’re going to love this one just like I did.
Can’t wait to read it?
The Gracekeepers was published in the U.S. on May 19, 2015 and in the UK on April 23, 2015, so it’s available in all formats from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks). If you download it as an ebook, you’ll have it to read immediately.
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One lucky reader will win an ARC (advance readers copy) of The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan!
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