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Monday, May 18, 2015

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

Like many of books I've read lately, The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan features the end of civilization. But although it takes place some undefined time after the end of life as we know it now, the characters are concerned with their present and most consider whatever came before to be as useless as legend.

In The Gracekeepers, the sea level has risen over cities and towns and only small islands remain. Some people cling to the land and a sense of heritage, but because there isn't enough to go around, many live permanently on boats. These sailors have to come to land to refuel, meet social obligations, and in the case of North's circus, perform for landlockers to earn food and survive. The landlockers don't much cotton to damplings, as the sailors are known, and the chief tension in The Gracekeepers is certain characters' longing either for land or for sea—we never do seem to be given what we really want, do we?

North loves the sea and would be perfectly content to live out her days there. But the ringmaster wants to marry her off to his son and buy a house on land for her, and what he says goes. Not only does North feel unsteady on land, but she also is going to give birth to a selkie's child. The word is never used in the novel, but the mysterious selkies must have been inspired by the Celtic legends of merpeople.

The other main character, Callanish, is the offspring of a woman and a selkie: her webbed fingers and toes shout it to the world. In order to do her duty as a Gracekeeper, she must wear shoes and gloves at all times. Callanish is not free in any way. Gracekeepers live all alone and perform funerals that involve the starvation of a small bird, a grace, to mark the end of the mourning period.

The writing is so magical and atmospheric that I didn't want The Gracekeepers to end. The strongest parts were the sections from the main characters' points of view, and some of the importance of the other characters is left totally up to the reader to decide. The omission of explicit explanations contributed to the sense of magic. One theme of the novel seems to be waiting, and the reader waits for something to happen, but the drama at the end of The Gracekeepers isn't the strongest part. This is the novel for a reader who wants to be swept into a mysterious land where the reader must decide on the meaning of people, animals, and actions based on only the most subtle of hints.

The Gracekeepers debuts tomorrow!

Novels I've Read in 2015: 
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Along the Far Shores by Kristin Gleeson

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A Kiss at Kihali by Ruth Harris

Mermaids in Paradise  by Lydia Millet

Raven Brought the Light by Kristin Gleeson

The Price of Blood by Patricia Bracewell

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom