The Book Itself: This. Cover. I adore it. Who is the artist, because I need prints of this and a whole bunch of other art he/she does. It’s so ethereal and awesome!
My Review: 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.
Just look at that cover…wouldn’t you pick it up, too? This is one of those books where I saw it, fell a little bit in cover-love, and then I read the synopsis and fell a little bit in synopsis-love. It looked and sounded so cool and interesting! Sailing circuses! Water-people and land-people! Bear tamers and ringleaders and trapeze artists (oh my!)!
It has been compared to Night Circus…but the fact that they both include circuses in their plot is pretty much the end of those similarities. Night Circus had a bright, magical quality to the writing and setting. The Gracekeepers is definitely more subdued and gritty. Death is a predominant theme in Gracekeepers: one of the main characters takes care of the dead in underwater burial ceremonies. North is motherless, and lives with the bear she performs with, aware in every scene that he could turn on her and harm her (or worse).
There are some minor characters that Logan tries to give their moment in the sun. A few of them narrate a couple of chapters. But they’re not as strongly outlined as North and Callanish. They’re chapters serve to fill in a few of the information gaps in North’s knowledge of the circus’ inner-workings, or a stranger’s impression of Callanish’s strange habits, but overall the secondary characters aren’t as strong.
I lagged a bit reading The Gracekeepers. I’m not sure if it was the gloomy tone or the slow-paced plot or even the characters, but this one didn’t grab me.
I will say something for the atmosphere and tone though: it is all very well built. The world Gracekeepers inhabits is a misty, mysterious moor of islands scattered throughout a large body of water. The main landmass has a nature-based religion all its own, centered on a giant tree where weddings, funerals, and births are celebrated at the base. Other than the floating circus, enormous ships carry members of a more Christian- or Catholic-based religion, performing passion plays every night and frowning on those who worship the nature religion. It’s a marvelously built world system, with the relationships between communities and the characters introduced gradually. There is a conflict between those who choose to live their lives on land, and those on the water, and even those who desire both. And that relationship is explored pretty well, too.
There are some other, more hazy themes that I wish were either explored further, or left alone. The concept of mermaids actually plays kind of a key role, but it’s all but casually mentioned. There are mermaids. Sometimes they sleep with humans. That’s about it. Literally. There is a gorgeous description of an underwater kingdom (that I think had to do with the mermaids? That connection is hazy at best), but it is described and then left alone. Tell me more about that! I wanted to shout. That sounds cool!
I was not besotted with any character. Even North and Callanish seemed a little drab. Their world was complex and wonderfully tension-filled, but I kept wanting them to do more. They let their circumstances and pasts bring them down, and even the epilogue left me just shrugging, ready to move on to something else.
It’s beautifully written in parts. I just wish I got more out of the characters for it.
My Grade: C