Review: The Gracekeepers
The first Callanish knew of the Circus Excalibur was the striped silk of their sails against the grey sky
When I fall in booklove, which I do a lot, it tends to be in one of two ways. There’s the head over heels, intense can not must not stop reading kind of love, the kind of love that makes me greedy, unable to read the words fast enough, wanting to devour and hungry for moremoremore. The kind of booklove that has me staying up way too late (one more chapter, yeah, whatever) and that leaves me feeling exhausted and bereft.
And then there’s the second kind, the kind that makes my chest tight, that makes me want to string it out as long as possible, each and every word feeling precious and important and not to be rushed. The kind of booklove that’s like eating a really good meal, where you cut it into the tiniest bites to make it last longer and let every mouthful dissolve slowly on your tongue. You don’t want it to ever be over, and yet somehows when it is you just feel right.
It’s the second kind of love that I have for Kirsty Logan’s debut novel The Gracekeepers, which I finished last night. It took me almost two weeks because I was forcing myself to take it slowly. This is a beautiful book and it deserves to be savoured. I’m so thrilled actually to be writing this review because I had the highest of hopes. I feel like I’ve been waiting for it forever, and I knew from the day I heard about it that it was going to be My Kind Of Book. And it’s so beautiful. I was lucky enough to receive a proof copy, which, is stunning, (seriously, so much pretty in one small paperback) and I have a shiny copy of the glorious hardback too which is different but equally wonderful and I just wanted to love it, so badly. AND I DID. I really really did. There is no sense of let down, nothing is anti-climatic, it’s just an absolute gem of a story and I CANNOT STOP WITH THE GUSHING.
So, you want a blurb, right? Because what’s the use of a review of a book you know nothing about.
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.
Inspired in part by Scottish myths and fairytales, The Gracekeepers tells a modern story of an irreparably changed world: one that harbors the same isolation and sadness, but also joys and marvels of our own age.
Everything about this book is glorious. Glorious.
Kirsty Logan is an excellent excellent writer and this whole book is just, well its magical realism at its very best I guess. It’s out of this world but still so authentic and every single one of the characters is so very thoughtfully drawn and fully fleshed out that you can’t help but want more of each of them. Even the ones you don’t particularly like. (Even Avalon.)
I want more of this world, I want the what happened before and the what happens next, for everybody, not just for Callanish and North, but for every single character. And yet at the same time, the book as it stands feels complete and enough and right. Which makes no sense but hey, when do I ever.
There are so many things to love about this book. I love the way it talks about inequality and isolation and loneliness, how it explores gender and sexuality and the way it looks at relationships and love and loss. I love how North feels safer in the arms of a not-quite-tame bear than anywhere else and how Callanish refuses to fish even though she’s close to starving. I love Melia, and Whitby. I love how it gave me that feeling I get when I read books like The Handmaid’s Tale - you know, where it all seems surreal and crazy but also only the tiniest step away, simultaneously imaginable and not at all. I love the circus, I love that the circus is a thing that still exists in this world, that despite everything there is still that. & what it the circus means and the stories it tells and its link to the past both through its performances and its very existence, I just love it all.
The Gracekeepers is part fairytale, part dystopia and at all times utterly engrossing. It’s just, it’s really really gorgeous.